There are many therapeutic uses for skullcap herb, a beautiful perennial and member of the Lamiaceae mint family. The herb has been a popular herbal remedy for centuries and is known for its many shades of blue to purple flowers that are shaped like a helmet or cap.
The University of Maryland Medical Center's (UMM) website states that there are two types of skullcap herb -- American skullcap and Chinese skullcap. While both herbs are used to treat illness, each has unique healing properties and one cannot be substituted for another.
- Scutellaria lateriflora, or American skullcap, is native to North America and is found near streams and marshy, wet areas.
- Scutellaria baicalensis, or Chinese skullcap, is native to China and parts of Russia.
Uses for Skullcap
The aerial parts of the American herb are used to create herbal remedies and can be found in the form of extracts, powders, capsules, tinctures, liniments, and teas. According to UMM, it is believed to help relax the body. It is primarily used to treat:
- Anxiety and nervous tension: A National Institutes of Health (PubMed) abstract reviews a study showing American skullcap has anti-anxiety effects. The herb is commonly used by women experiencing nervousness and anxiety due to hormonal imbalance, as well as for smoking withdrawal.
- Convulsions: This herb is often prescribed by herbalists for people who suffer from epilepsy or seizure. A PubMed abstract states that American skullcap displayed anti-convulsant activity in rodents with acute seizures. It's important to note that a separate Pub Med abstract indicates that skullcap may negatively interact with traditional seizure medications and should not be used to treat seizures unless under the advice and car of a doctor.
The roots of Chinese skullcap are used to create herbal remedies and is commonly found in teas, capsules, and tinctures. It is used to treat the following health concerns:
- Allergies: This herb may help reduce allergy symptoms, especially congestion and watery eyes, due to hay fever.
- Headaches: It is sometimes recommended to help with headaches and migraines caused by tension and excessive stress.
- Arthritis: The herb has been found to have anti-inflammatory properties and is often prescribed by herbalists to treat arthritis and other painful inflammatory conditions.
- Cancer: Based on animal studies, the baicalein flavonoid content found in Chinese skullcap is believed to help prevent and slow the growth of some cancer cells. Human studies on advanced prostate cancer patients showed an herbal mixture containing baicalein either reversed or stabilized the cancer in almost all patients.
- Hypertension: Baicalein is also believed to help reduce high blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health.
- Fights bacteria and viruses: Studies show the herb to have antimicrobial and antiviral properties which may offer resistance against certain influenza strains and some drug resistant bacteria.
- Diabetes: Because skullcap is believed to lower blood sugar levels, some herbalists prescribe it for diabetes symptoms; however UMM's site mentions that, although animal studies show the herb may help decrease diabetes symptoms, much more study is needed to prove this result.
- Tumor fighting: Some studies indicate that the herb has powerful anti-tumor properties, possibly the result of its high flavonoid content.
According to Drugs.com, the typical dosage for American skullcap is one to two grams, taken three times daily. Chinese skullcap is also often used in combination with other herbs and a common dose is three - nine grams daily. Both types of skullcap are commonly used in combination with other herbs such as lemon balm, valerian, bayberry, turmeric and passion flower, so it's important to follow product dosing instructions carefully.
Side Effects and Interactions
While side effects of skullcap are generally considered to be mild, UMM's website mention some precautions to be aware of before using the herb:
- Herb identity confusion: Skullcap closely resembles another herb, germander, which can cause hepatitis and liver problems.
- Liver toxicity: One case study has been reported showing a Chinese skullcap herbal preparation to cause liver damage.
- Blood sugar problems: Chinese skullcap may alter blood sugar levels and should not be used without doctor supervision if you have diabetes or blood sugar issues.
- Mental clarity problems: High doses of American skullcap can leave you feeling giddy, confused and may cause twitching, seizures, or irregular heartbeat.
- Spleen and stomach issues: Do not use Chinese skullcap if you have stomach or spleen problems.
- Drug interactions: Avoid using skullcap if you take statins, anticoagulants/anti platelet drugs, or cytochrome P450 substrates. Do not use the herb if you take benzodiazepines such as Xanax or Valium, barbiturates, insomnia drugs such as Ambien or Lunesta, tricyclic antidepressants, or if you drink alcohol.
- Do not use the herb if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Where to Buy
It's easy to find a variety of skullcap preparations online, but it's important to use a reliable source to ensure a high quality product. The following companies offer high quality preparations:
- Mountain Rose Herbs: This company offers organic dried skullcap, as well as capsules and extract. It also offers skullcap tea preparations that are combined with other herbs.
- Oregon's Wild Harvest: This company sells organic American skullcap capsules made from dried plant tops.
- Gaia Herbs: You can purchase organic American skullcap extract or preparations that use Chinese skullcap from this company.
A Versatile Herb
Whether used alone to relieve anxiety or used in combination with other healing herbs to ease allergies and headache, skullcap is a versatile herb that shows promise for the potential to treat serious illness.
Before using this herb, keep in mind that all herbal remedies have the potential for unwanted side effects and are not approved by the FDA. It's critical to consult a doctor before using the herb, especially if you have a medical condition or take prescription or over-the-counter medications.