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Skullcap Herb

Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) is native to North America, but is now widely cultivated in Europe and other areas of the world. It has been used for over two hundred years as a mild relaxant and has long been hailed as an effective therapy for anxiety, nervous tension, and convulsions. Because of its calming effects on the nervous and musculoskeletal system, it was also at one time considered to be a remedy for rabies, thus it's name "mad dog weed."

Plant Description

Scutellaria lateriflora is one species of skullcap that is used in herbal preparations. The plant derives its name from the caplike appearance of the outer whorl of its small blue flowers. Skullcap is a slender, heavily branched plant that grows to a height of two to four feet and blooms each July.

Parts Used

The parts of the skullcap plant used for medicinal purposes are the leaves. These are harvested in June from a three to fouryearold skullcap plant.

Medicinal Uses and Indications

While scientific studies have not been conducted on the medicinal properties of Scutellaria lateriflora, its current uses, based on traditional and clinical practice, include:

Treatment of muscle spasms
Calming of the nerves
It has also been used to treat symptoms associated with:

Tension headache
Anorexia nervosa
Restless leg syndrome and other causes of insomnia
Mild Tourette's syndrome (a disorder characterized by multiple motor and vocal tics)
Seizure disorders.
Chinese Skullcap
A closely related herb, Chinese skullcap (Scuterllaria baicalensis) has actually been the subject of a number of studies, including those on animals and people. It has antioxidative, antiinflammatory, and antihistamine properties, which can help treat allergies such as hay fever (called allergic rhinitis), particularly when used with other herbs, including stinging nettle.

Chinese skullcap is also used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat tumors. Early laboratory studies investigating this traditional use are emerging and showing preliminary promise for combating bladder, liver, and other types of cancers, at least in test tubes.

In terms of clinical studies on people, skullcap is also one of the eight herbs that make up PCSPES, an alternative treatment for prostate cancer. (It is important to note, however, that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently issued a warning to consumers that PC SPES may contain undeclared prescription drug ingredients that could cause dangerous side effects.)

Chinese laboratory research has isolated an element present in skullcap that may prove useful in treating hepatitis B and has suggested that the antioxidant properties of Chinese skullcap may prove beneficial for preventing heart disease or limiting the damage following a heart attack. Much more research needs to be done in these areas before conclusions can be drawn.

Available Forms

Skullcap is available as a powder or liquid extract.

How to Take It


Although not common, skullcap may be used for calmative purposes in children and administered as a mild tea. Use either prepackaged tea bags, letting it steep for approximately 2 minutes or add 1 tsp of dried leaves to 1 cup of boiling water and steep for 2 minutes. (Shorter steeping time makes for milder strength teas).

The tea should be dosed according to the child's age and weight as follows:

Children 1 to 2 years (24 lb or
Skullcap Herb
less): ¼ cup one to three times per day
Children 3 to 6 years (25 to 48 lb ): ½ cup one to four times per day
Children 7 to 11 years (49 to 95 lb ): ¾ cup one to four times per day
Children 12 and older (over 95 lb ): 1 cup one to four times per day

The following are recommended adult doses for skullcap:

Dried herb: 1 to 2 grams per day
Tea: Pour 1 cup boiling water over 1 teaspoon of dried herb. Steep 20 to 30 minutes. Drink 2 to 3 cups per day.
Fluid extract (1:1 in 25% alcohol): 2 to 4 mL (40 to 120 drops), three times daily
Tincture (1:5 in 45% alcohol): 2 to 5 mL (40 to 150 drops), three times per day


The use of herbs is a timehonored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, contain active substances that can trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, herbs should be taken with care, under the supervision of a practitioner knowledgeable in the field of botanical medicine.

There are mixed opinions as to the safety of skullcap because it has, in the past, been contaminated with Teucrium species, a group of plants known to cause liver problems. It is therefore important that skullcap be obtained from a reliable source.

Overdose of skullcap tincture produces giddiness, stupor, mental confusion, twitching, irregular heartbeat, and epilepticlike symptoms. Skullcap should not be used during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Possible Interactions

While there are no reports in the scientific literature to suggest that skullcap interacts with any conventional medications, it does possess sedative properties. Therefore, skullcap should be used with caution, if at all, by those who are taking benzodiazepines (antianxiety medications) such as diazepam or alprazolam, barbiturates (medications often prescribed for sleep disorders or seizures) such as pentobarbital, or other sedative medications (including antihistamines).

Other useful herb information: Artichoke | Celery Seed | Motherwort | Kelp | Bacopa | Relora | Neem

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