Skullcap: Use in Natural Medicine

Ocmulgee skullcap is a better inhibitor of glioma in rat brain cells than the well known Chinese herb Scutellaria. It is on the USDA list of threatened plants. See German Journal on Herbal Medicine, 2009

(Skuhl’ kap)

Scientific names: scutellaria laterifolia, scutelaria baicalensis
Common names: American scullcap, blue pimpernel, blue skullcap, helmut flower, hoodwrot, haung-qin, mad-dog weed, madweed, Quaker bonnet, scullcap, side flower, scullcap helbut flower,Virginian Skullcap

Scutellaria lateriflora (Labiatae) is an aromatic, anticonvulsive, antispasmodic, antibacterial, sedative that affects the nervous and structural muscular system

Origin: Naturally found mostly in Asia and the eastern part of North America but is a cultivated plant in Europe.

Mad-dog Skullcap falls into the mint family of fragrant herbs. It is a perennial, producing 1-3 foot leaves opposite/lateral; oval to lance-shaped, and toothed with violet-blue flowers seen May – September. The pink to blue flowers are in short lateral false spikes. The calyx is fluffy, dorsiventral, flattened with 2 rounded, entire lips. The lower lip has a helmet shaped, concave appendage. There are 4 ascending stamens with pairs of ciliated anthers. The fruit is a globular to flattened-ovoid warty nut. This plant can be found in woods and moist thickets.

The herb has a bitter, slightly stringent taste. The active ingredient int he leaves are scutellarin, essential oil as well as fatty oil, tannen, and resin.

The medicinal part is the pulverized herb of the 3 to 4 year old plant which is harvested in June. The strong tea can be used as a sedative and for many types of nervous conditions including epilepsy, insomnia, anxiety, neuralgia, etc. It increases stomach acidity, irritates mucous membranes, relieves spasm in skeletal or smooth muscle, interfered with absorption of iron and other mineral when taken internally. It may increase appetite and relieve intestinal cramps. The Chinese use the root of the scuttelaria baicalensis as a cooling antipyretic herb that has diuretic and laxative properties.

Skullcap is comprised of a group of herbaceous plants scattered over the temperate climates of the world. The American species, lateriflora, is used as a nervine. The herb is found along the banks of rivers and lakes and in other moist places.

Its attention getting names are derived from the Latin, “scutella” meaning a small dish in reference tot he shape of the appendage to the flower, which resembles a cap in appearance. It became known as Mad-dog Skullcap or “Madweed” because tea made form it was once used for the treatment of hydrophobia, (canine rabies). The French call the plant toque.

Skullcap traditionally has been used to treat seizure disorders, inflammation, spastic disorders, and high cholesterol. Initial research available for the use of skullcap as an antiviral and as a treatment for lung cancer, cerebrovascular accident, and embolism. Skullcap can be found as available for use in capsules, dried herb, fluid extract, and tincture. The parts of the plant used for healing include the leaves and roots. Adults should take Skullcap by mouth preferably in a 1:1 dilution in 25% alcohol fluid extract or 1:5 dilution in 45% alcohol tincture along with the herb tea three times a day for best results. A popular extract recipe suggests 4.5 gm dried herb (leaf and/or root), 22 ml alcohol, 23 ml water. Skullcap can be combined with Valerian, Black Cohosh and Yerba Santa.

100 grams of Skullcap contains high amounts of Potassium, Vitamin C, and Zinc. It contains significant amounts of Aluminum, Ash, Dietary Fiber, Iron, Manganese, Niacin, Phosphorus, Protein, Riboflavin, Selenium, Silicon, Thiamine, Vitamin A, and contains 1.5% Fat.

Contraindications include pregnant or lactating woman who share their milk and children under 12 years of age. Skullcap is a class 1 herb (root) .  Adverse affects can include arrhythmias (overdose of tincture only), tremors, confusion, euphoria, seizures, stupor (overdose of tincture only) nausea, vomiting, anorexia, hepatotoxicity, and hypersensitivity reactions.

No health hazards or side effects are known in conjunction with the proper administration of designated therapeutic dosages.

Skullcap may potentiate sedation of central nervous system depressants; avoid concurrent use. Use of skullcap may decrease the effects of immunosuppressants; avoid concurrent use. Skullcap used with other sedative herbs can increase sedation. In lab tests skullcap has been shown to increase ALT, AST, total bilirubin, and urine bilirubin.

Skullcap should be stored in a cool, dry place, away from heat and moisture.

Skullcap should not be taken by people who suffer from hypertoxocity, central nervous system disorders or cardiovascular disease. People with hypersensitive skin reactions should use an antihistamine or other appropriate therapy to relieve adverse reactions.

Pharmacokenetics and pharmacodynamics are unknown. Skullcap has been shown to normalize platelet-mediated hemostasis in rats with lymphosarcoma (Razin, et al, 1989) It is believed that this action may me responsible for the antitumor effects of skullcap. Another study documented antitumor action and antineoplastic toxicity in mice (Razin, et al, 1987) Epidemiologic studies have shown the use of skullcap for the treatment of sleep disorders (Caufield et al, 1999). Skullcap has been shown to decrease interleukin-1 and prostaglandin synthesis (Chung et al, 1995). There is possible anti-HIV action (Li et al, 1993).

Skullcap is made up of the primary chemical components of flavonoid, iridoid, sesquiterpene, tannin, resin, lignan, wogonin; including individual component: baicalin, leucolin; apigenin; hispidulin; baicalein; scutellarin; scutellarein; terpineol; limonene; caryophullene; cadinene.


Chang, EH et al. (Eds.), Advances in Chinese Medicinal Materials Research, World Scientific Pub. Co. Singapore 1985

Kern W, List PH, Horhammer L (hrsg.), Hagers Handbuch der Pharmazeutischen Praxis, 4 Aulf., Bde 1-8: Springer Verlag Berlin, Heidelberg, New York, 1969

Griffith, H. Winter, MD: Vitamins, Herbs, Minerals, and Supplements, MFJ Books, New York, 1998.

PDR for Herbal Medicines, Medical Economics Company, Montvale, New Jersey, 1998

Pedersen, Mark: Nutritional Herbology. Wendell A. Whitman Company, 2008.
Skidmore-Roth, Linda: Mosby’s Guide to Herbs and Natural Supplements, 3rd Edition, Elsevier Mosby, 2006.

Cathleen Carr, JD, NP, CMP for Natural Medicine Ink Copywrite 2009 All Rights Reserved


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