Some plants I’m drawn too because of their striking beauty. With others, it’s their name. This little mint-family plant was first brought to my attention after I was in a car accident that left every muscle in my back in some serious spasms. Skullcap, or Scutellaria lateriflora, is a well-known natural muscle relaxer that does not leave you drowsy or unable to function. It may not look like much, but it is a wonderful herb to get to know.
Scutellaria lateriflora is endemic (meaning it can only be found) to North America, but there are species of skullcaps found throughout the world. S. baicalensis and S. barbatae are two species that are native to Eastern Asia and Northern China and are commonly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. These two often get confused with S. lateriflora though these plants are used quite differently in practice.
Scutellaria is a genus of around 300 species in the Lamiaceae, or mint, family. They are annual or perennial and have the standard traits of most mints. They are known for square stems, opposite and toothed leaves, with bilaterally symmetrical flowers. Unlike most mint family plants, Scutellaria tend to not be aromatic. S. lateriflora is a wetland loving species that grows near marshes, meadows and other wet habitats. The blue to purple petals of the flowers were said to resemble the helmets of medieval European soldiers, hence its common name: skullcap.
Common Names- American Skullcap, Blue Pimpernel, Blue Skullcap, Escutelaria, Grande Toque, Helmet Flower, Hoodwort, Mad-Dog Herb, Mad-Dog Skullcap, Mad-Dog Weed, Mad Weed, Quaker Bonnet, & Scullcap
Scientific Name- Scutellaria lateriflora (Scutellaria baicalensis is a different plant with slightly different uses)
Family- Lamiaceae (Mint Family)
Summary of Actions- Abortifacient, Anticonvulsant, Anti-inflammatory, Antioxidant, Antispasmodic, Anxiolytic, Astringent (slightly), Bitter, Emmenagogue, Febrifuge, Nervine tonic & Relaxant, Hypotensive, Sedative, Tonic
Parts Used- Aerial (above ground parts)
Energetics/Flavors- Bitter, Cold
Key Constituents- Flavonoids, Baicalein, Apigenin, Oroxylin A, Scutellarein, Steroidal saponins, Glycosides, Volatile oils, Tannins, Zinc. More than 295 chemical compounds have been isolated.
Edibility- The aerial parts can safely be eaten raw or cooked. The flowers make wonderful garnishes for pastries.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)- Huang Qin (Scutellaria baicalensis) and Ban Zhi Lian (S. barbatae) are the two common Chinese names for Skullcap. I’m not aware of a Chinese name for S. lateriflora, though it is used for the Stomach, Lungs, and Kidney meridians. It helps move Qi and calm nerves, clears heat and resolves fevers, restores stomach function and promotes urination. Skullcap is also used for snakebite, rashes, and insect bites.
Ayurveda- This herb is used in Ayurvedic medicine for Pitta types that tend to become irritable, angry, or may struggle with sleep because of stress. It also is used in a preparation (Ramayana #16) that is used to treat epilepsy.
Native American Traditional Uses- The Cherokee, and some other Native American Tribes, used Skullcap as an herb for female issues. It was predominantly used as an emmenagogue, helping to bring on late periods and stimulate blood flow in the pelvic regions as well as in the uterus. A decoction of the root was also taken after birth to stimulate the reproductive system. It was also used in purification ceremonies when some menstrual taboos were broken, or in ceremonies to bring girls into womanhood. The Iroquois use an infusion of the root to keep the throat clear. Other Native American tribes use closely related species as bitter tonics for the kidneys. This herb is used to induce visions and as a ceremonial plant to be smoked as tobacco by some Native Indians. It was also thought to be effective against rabies (modern research discredited this use), which is why one of the common names is Mad-Dog Herb.
Healthy Sleep- Skullcap is a gentle sedative that doesn’t cause extreme lethargy like many other sedatives do. However, it is still a great herb for insomnia and other sleeping problems. Particularly restlessness, muscle tension, and jaw clenching. This herb helps to quiet racing thoughts and has also been known to reduce nightmares.
Pain- Skullcap is useful for general pain such as headaches, injuries, spasmodic pains such as cramps and general body pains. By itself it’s not very potent. However, it can help amplify the pain-relieving properties of other herbs. It also doesn’t cause lethargy or brain fog like some other pain-relieving herbs do, so if you need to be aware of, and focused on, what you are doing but still need a bit of pain-relief, Skullcap is a great herb.
Anxiety, Depression, Nervous Tension, & Stress- S. lateriflora helps to nourish and mildly sedate the nervous system. This makes it a great stress neutralizer that helps calm and center people that deal with high amounts of stress on a daily basis. It also helps to detox the body, helping to get rid of built-up stress hormones and releasing nervous tension. These properties along with the trophorestorative (restoring the nutrition uptake of the nerves) effects of this herb make it great to help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression and helping to fight burnout.
Seizures- This herb’s anticonvulsant and antispasmodic properties make it a great herb to help prevent seizures in those who struggle with epilepsy. It can also help to relax muscles and ease some of the pain that occurs after a seizure.
Muscle Relaxant- The primary way I personally use this herb is as a muscle relaxant. It helps reduce cramps and spasms in both skeletal and smooth muscle tissue without causing drowsiness.
PMS and Women’s Complaints- Women use S. lateriflora to stimulate menstrual flow when menstruation is absent such as in hormonal disorders or conditions like oligomenorrhea (light menses). It is also often used in combination with crampbark (Viburnum opulus) to help prevent or treat cramps associated with menses and/or premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s- Oxidative stress affects some brain-related diseases, such Alzheimer’s disease, depression and Parkinson’s disease. Skullcap is an antioxidant that has tonic actions on the central nervous system. Some research indicates that bioactive compounds found skullcap, may neutralize, and even eliminate toxic free radicals that cause this damage. In addition to its antioxidant activities, it also helps to support proper blood flow to the brain.
Cautions, Contraindications, and Warnings- There are possible drug interactions with central nervous system depressants and other sedatives (including anesthesia). If you are taking any of these, or preparing for surgery, check with your doctor before trying American Skullcap. Avoid during pregnancy as it may trigger a miscarriage.
I only included a basic introduction to this amazing little herb. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below. Follow me on Facebook and Instagram for updates and more adventures in nature. Fine me on YouTube and check out my videos! I also have a few things up on TeeSpring, check it out! If you like what I do and want to see more, Become a Patron!
American Skullcap: Gaia Herbs: https://www.gaiaherbs.com/blogs/herbs/american-skullcap
Scutellaria lateriflora: Plants for a Future: https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Scutellaria+lateriflora
Skullcap: St. Luke’s Hospital: https://www.stlukes-stl.com/health-content/medicine/33/000273.htm
Skullcap: White Rabbit Institute of Healing: https://www.whiterabbitinstituteofhealing.com/herbs/skullcap/
Skullcap 101: Traditional Medicinals: https://www.traditionalmedicinals.com/articles/plants/skullcap-101/
Skullcap- Benefits, Side Effects, and Dosage: Healthline: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/skullcap
Skullcap: The National Center for Biotechnology Information: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK548757/#:~:text=Skullcap%20is%20a%20flowering%20perennial,nervousness%2C%20digestive%20and%20kidney%20problems.
Skullcap Energetics, S. Lateriflora or North American Skullcap: The Practical Herbalist: https://thepracticalherbalist.com/advanced-herbalism/skullcap-energetics-s-lateriflora-or-north-american-skullcap/
SKULLCAP- MINTY, MAGICAL HERB FOR STRESS RELIEF: Calm Botanicals: https://www.calmbotanicals.com/blogs/news/skullcap-minty-magical-herb-for-stress-relief
Skullcap-Potential medicinal Crop: Purdue University: https://hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/ncnu02/v5-580.html
Skullcap- The Perfect Herb for Flu Season and Beyond: Dr. Axe: https://draxe.com/nutrition/skullcap/
The Skullcaps-A Scutellaria Monograph: Northeast School of Botanical Medicine: https://7song.com/the-skullcaps-a-scutellaria-monograph/