Common name: Skullcap
Other names: Blue skullcap, Virginian skullcap
Latin name: Scutellaria lateriflora
Affinity: Nervous system, digestive system
Actions: Nervine tonic, sedative, anti-spasmodic, anti-convulsive, nervine trophorestorative, digestive bitter
Diseases: Anxiety(1), depression(1), insomnia(3), epilepsy(3), ME/ CFS(3), fibromyalgia(3), benzodiazepine addiction withdrawal(3), migraines(3), seizures(3), nerve pain(3)
Parts used: Leaf
Characteristics: American skullcap is a perennial member of the mint family and it grows in meadows and swamps in Northern American (Awad et al., 2003).
History: For many centuries, a relative of American skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) called Chinese skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis) has been used to treat allergies and as a sedative (Castleman, 2004). However, the two species have different traditional uses in herbalism and should not be confused. American skullcap was used by the Native Americans in North America as a sedative and tonic (Barceloux, 2008). The first introduction of American skullcap into the medical system was by Dr. Vandesveer of Roysfield, New Jersey in 1772 who claimed it could treat rabies, this was later disproven (Castleman, 2004). However, herbalists of the time subsequently used the remedy to greater success against anxiety, insomnia, and other disorders of the nervous system. It was widely used by the Eclectics in the 19th century to treat convulsions and withdrawal from serious alcoholism.
Current applications: David Hoffman states skullcap relaxes nervous tension in the central nervous system and also has a renewing effect (Hoffman, 1988). It may be useful in the treatment of seizures, hysterical states, epilepsy. It also may be useful in cases of exhaustion, depression, and easing premenstrual tension. David Winston recommends it for stressed people, and those with muscle spasms, nervous tics, or painful and tight muscles (Winston, 2007). Thomas Bartram recommends it for withdrawal from benzodiazepine addiction, migraines, insomnia, and says it has value in the treatment of ME (Bartram, 2013). It combines well with fresh St. John’s wort tincture as part of a treatment for nerve pain, but also anxiety and insomnia.
Science: Skullcap contains flavonoids that are of interest because of their anti-oxidant and anti-tumour activities (Cole, 2008; Wojcikowski et al., 2007), this gives skullcap potential to have a healthier profile than mainstream anti-anxiety pharmaceutical drugs. There are two human studies of acceptable quality that show positive effects against anxiety and depression (Wolfson, 2003; Brock et al., 2014), thus supporting the traditional usage of skullcap.
Safety: Skullcap is very safe to use even for the young, elderly, pregnant, and breastfeeding. It was widely used by the Eclectic physicians for various female illnesses in both pregnant and non-pregnant women. However, for those already taking sedative medication, there is a risk of an additive effect with harmful consequences so caution in dosing is recommended.
Dosage: 2-5ml of the tincture, two or three times daily. Note, the fresh tincture of skullcap is stronger and better than dried. Tincture of skullcap is best for the nerve tonic effect. For individuals already taking sedative drugs, be cautious regarding dosage.
To make an infusion of skullcap take three teaspoons and one mug of boiling water and infuse in a teapot (off heat) for ten minutes. Good quality skullcap for making tea has a deep green colour to it and as it dries it loses colour and potency.
Brands: I recommend Herb Pharm or a good local supplier. I suggest the fresh tincture, it is best to avoid the dried tincture if possible.
Research on models
Anti-oxidant activity: One ex vivo study found American skullcap was one of the 5 highest herbs in terms of radical-scavenging activity (Wojcikowski et al., 2007).
Anti-tumour activity: One ex vivo study found skullcap extracts containing flavonoids had anti-tumour activity (Parajuli et al., 2009).
Research on humans
Anxiety: A study (n = 19, double blind, placebo controlled) demonstrated a decrease in anxiety of individuals who were given American skullcap (Wolfson, 2003).
Depression: A recent study (n = 43, double blind, placebo controlled) demonstrated a significant improvement in mood in skullcap treated individuals compared with control (Brock et al., 2014). Skullcap increased overall mood without decreases in cognition. Further studies are warranted. Only mild side effects were noted in the skullcap group.
Awad, R., et al. “Phytochemical and biological analysis of skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora L.): a medicinal plant with anxiolytic properties.” Phytomedicine 10.8 (2003): 640-649.
Barceloux, Donald G. Medical toxicology of natural substances: foods, fungi, medicinal herbs, plants, and venomous animals. John Wiley & Sons, 2008.
Bartram, Thomas. Bartram’s encyclopedia of herbal medicine. Hachette UK, 2013.
Brock, C., Whitehouse, J., Tewfik, I., & Towell, T. (2014). American Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora): A Randomised, Double‐Blind Placebo‐Controlled Crossover Study of its Effects on Mood in Healthy Volunteers. Phytotherapy Research, 28(5), 692-698.
Castleman, Michael. “The new healing herbs.” Bantam Book, New York (2001): 465-471.
Cole, Ian B., et al. “Comparisons of Scutellaria baicalensis, Scutellaria lateriflora and Scutellaria racemosa: genome size, antioxidant potential and phytochemistry.” Planta medica 74.04 (2008): 474-481.
Hoffman, David. Holistic herbal. Element Books, 1988.
Parajuli, Prahlad, et al. “In vitro antitumor mechanisms of various Scutellaria extracts and constituent flavonoids.” Planta medica 75.01 (2009): 41-48.
Winston, David, and Steven Maimes. Adaptogens: herbs for strength, stamina, and stress relief. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co, 2007.
Wojcikowski, Ken, et al. “Antioxidant capacity of 55 medicinal herbs traditionally used to treat the urinary system: a comparison using a sequential three-solvent extraction process.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 13.1 (2007): 103-110.
Wolfson, P., and D. L. Hoffmann. “An investigation into the efficacy of Scutellaria lateriflora in healthy volunteers.” Alternative therapies in health and medicine 9.2 (2003): 74.