Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) is a medicinal plant that has been used for its healing properties for centuries, particularly in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Skullcap can refer to two herbs: American skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) and Chinese skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis). Both these varieties of skullcap are used to treat different conditions and are not interchangeable.1
American skullcap is native to North America, but now cultivated worldwide. It was an important North American ethnobotanical medicine used in treating anxiety, hysteria, convulsions, phobias, panic attacks, tension, sleep disorders and stress.2 It has been used for more than 200 years as a mild relaxant. American skullcap has significant antioxidant effects, and may help protect against neurological disorders, such as anxiety, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and Parkinson’s disease. Some evidence suggests that American skullcap may inhibit food allergic response.
Chinese skullcap’s root is extensively prescribed in traditional Chinese and Japanese medications. It has been widely researched in regards to its efficacy and pharmacological properties. Although American skullcap is a popular herb in western herbal medicine and is used commonly in many herbal formulations for anxiety and stress, not many scientific studies of this herb exist.3
Most of the studies conducted on skullcap have examined Chinese skullcap, which is native to China and parts of Russia. Chinese skullcap has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat allergies, infections, inflammation, headaches and even cancer. It is also known to have anti-fungal and antiviral properties. Studies conducted using animals and test tubes suggest that Chinese skullcap may help reduce symptoms of diabetes and hypertension and fight cancer. But whether it has the same effect on humans is still uncertain and more research is required.4
Parts Used And Available Forms
American skullcap – The leaves are used for medicinal purposes. These are harvested in June from a three to four-year-old skullcap plant. American skullcap is available as a powder or liquid extract.
Chinese skullcap – The root of Chinese skullcap is crushed and its powder is used in the treatment of numerous diseases.
Benefits Of Skullcap
1. Skullcap For Muscle Twitching And Spasms
Skullcap is an effective herb in treating premenstrual tension and cramping, TMJ pain and restless legs. It is well-known for its ability to reduce muscle twitches and involuntary muscle spasms. Skullcap Ramayana, an Ayurvedic herbal preparation made from skullcap and other ingredients, is used for epilepsy treatment. Skullcap is given for insomnia, tremors, muscle spasms, neuralgia, neurosis, and nervous headaches.5
2. Skullcap For Pain
Skullcap is a mild anodyne herb and is especially suited to relieving pain caused due to muscle tension. For centuries, it was used to treat various types of pain, such as toothaches, menstrual pain, and irritability caused by the pain of teething.
3. Skullcap For Fighting Cancer
As per research, Chinese skullcap extract is toxic to cancer cells, such as brain tumor cells, prostate cancer cells, and head and neck squamous cell carcinoma cell lines. Studies show that aqueous extracts suppressed the growth of lymphoma and myeloma cells. The effects of the extract from skullcap on fibrosarcoma and showed possible anti-cancer properties. The rate at which cancer cells grew was considerably suppressed by treatment and the volume and weight of tumors were also reduced.
4. Skullcap For Anxiety Cure
For over 200 years, American skullcap has been used as a nerve tonic to help treat anxiety. Studies show that the plant can induce anxiolytic activity in both animals and humans. Research shows that bioactive compounds found in skullcap may neutralize and even eliminate toxic free radicals. Oxidative stress affects many brain-related diseases, such as anxiety, Alzheimer’s disease, depression and Parkinson’s disease. Skullcap’s scientifically proven antioxidant properties can make it an effective treatment to reduce anxiety.6
5. Skullcap For Flu
A 2014 study by the Korean Food Research Institute indicates that skullcap may help reduce fever. Tests were conducted by administering the herb to subjects who had a food allergy. Results concluded that the group that was administered skullcap demonstrated a drop in body temperature.7 Studies also show that skullcap can help in treating severe cases of illness involving fever. Skullcap can be combined with other medicinal herbs, such as fried bitter apricot seeds and unprocessed rhubarb, to help reduce a high fever.
6. Skullcap For Reducing Inflammation
Chinese skullcap contains effective anti-inflammatory properties. It is extensively used as a home remedy by many people who suffer from arthritis and inflammatory bowel diseases. Studies indicate that Chinese skullcap has beneficial effects on people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease due to its anti-inflammatory effects.
7. Skullcap For Relaxation
Besides being beneficial in treating anxiety, skullcap can greatly assist in treating persons who experience insomnia and other sleeping problems, such as restlessness, muscle tension, and jaw clenching. Skullcap tea or tincture taken before going to bed can help in relaxation and induce sleep.8
8. Skullcap For The Heart
Recently, a study was conducted to analyze the cardio-protective properties of baicalein, which is derived from the roots of American skullcap and Chinese skullcap. The study revealed that skullcap indeed contained cardio-protective effects because of the presence of baicalein. This acts as evidence that pre-treatment could prevent, and possibly eradicate, certain heart conditions, such as myocardial infarction.
Precautions And Side-Effects
However, herbs can trigger side effects and can interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. Due to its potential sedative action, avoid using American skullcap in combination with other sedatives, such as alcohol.9 For these reasons, you should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a health care provider.
In the past, American skullcap has been adulterated with germander, a completely different group of plants known to cause liver complications. Hence, it is important to procure American skullcap from a reliable source. High doses of skullcap tincture may cause giddiness, stupor, mental confusion, twitching, irregular heartbeat, and seizures. American skullcap should not be used by pregnant and breastfeeding women.
People with diabetes must consult their physician before using Chinese skullcap. Chinese skullcap may lower blood sugar levels, raising the risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Avoid Chinese skullcap if you have stomach or spleen problems. As with American skullcap, pregnant and breastfeeding women must avoid Chinese skullcap.
Skullcap Herbal Tea
A strong tea of skullcap can act as a powerful sedative. After drinking skullcap herbal tea to induce sleep, do not drink a lot of water immediately and dilute the tea. Boil five grams of skullcap in 8 ounces of water for 15 minutes and drink it an hour before your bedtime. The safe and recommended dose per day is 6-15 grams.
Labels Can Be Misleading
Skullcap products may not always contain the exact same ingredients claimed on the label. Plants such as germander and teucrium are often mixed in skullcap products. If you are buying American skullcap, the species of skullcap that has been studied and proven useful for medicinal use, ensure that the product does not contain other species of skullcap instead. The most often substituted species are Western skullcap (Scuttelaria canescens), Southern skullcap (Scutellaria cordifolia), or Marsh skullcap (Scutellaria galericulatum). Most importantly, since these species contain different chemicals, they are not considered interchangeable.
|↑1, ↑4||Skullcap. University of Maryland Medical Center. 2014.|
|↑2, ↑3, ↑9||Brock, Christine, Julie Whitehouse, Ihab Tewfik, and Anthony Towell. “American skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora): an ancient remedy for today’s anxiety?.” British Journal of Wellbeing 1, no. 4 (2010): 25-30.|
|↑5||Saxena, V. S., and V. V. Nadkarni. “Nonpharmacological treatment of epilepsy.” Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology 14, no. 3 (2011): 148.|
|↑6||Wolfson, P., and D. L. Hoffmann. “An investigation into the efficacy of Scutellaria lateriflora in healthy volunteers.” Alternative therapies in health and medicine 9, no. 2 (2003): 74.|
|↑7||Shin, Hee Soon, Min-Jung Bae, Sun Young Jung, and Dong-Hwa Shon. “Preventive effects of skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis) extract in a mouse model of food allergy.” Journal of ethnopharmacology 153, no. 3 (2014): 667-673.|
|↑8||Brock, Christine, Julie Whitehouse, Ihab Tewfik, and Anthony Towell. “American skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora): an ancient remedy for today’s anxiety?.” British Journal of Wellbeing 1, no. 4 (2010): 25-30.|