How does it feel?
The infused tincture has a pleasant fresh, slightly sweet smell with an initially sweet taste and mildly bitter after tones. The dried herb has a gentle aroma redolent of fresh field mushrooms.
All around the world the actions of traditional medicines were understood by their immediate sensory impacts. Click on each of skullcap’s key qualities below to learn more:
What can I use it for?
Skullcap is a nervous system tonic, nervine and has antispasmodic activity. It is a great remedy where there is any nervous tension which can have a knock-on effect on the muscles, therefore it is useful in states of increased muscular tension such as in tension headaches, tightened shoulders, neck or lower back, palpitations, menstrual cramps, tremors, muscle spasms and leg cramps or neuralgia.
It can also be used in insomnia to quieten the mind enough to allow sleep to come. On its own it isn’t sedating, however in such situations it combines well with other herbs that do have this quality such as passionflower, wild lettuce or hops.
Into the heart of skullcap
Herbal practitioners are consulted for anxiety and stress-related conditions more widely perhaps than any other presentation. To be able to have to hand this wonderfully nourishing herb for the nervous system within our herbal medicine chest is a very valuable resource indeed.
As mentioned, it can be used for addiction and withdrawal symptoms concerning tranquillizers. Given the epidemic of analgesia addiction in the US and increasingly in European countries Skullcap has an important role in supporting the mind and body.
Ayurvedic use of skullcap includes its use in lowering excessive Pitta and for helping reduce heat-driven emotions such as hatred or anger.
It soothes the heart and is said to possess sattvic qualities, bringing about a clarity of mind. It is often combined with Gotu Kola for such situations.
Skullcap was used by Native American tribes to relieve breast pain, promote menstruation and in child birth to help expel the placenta. It was used within ceremonies for the transition of girls to womanhood and has been used variously for treating stress, insomnia, premenstrual syndrome and diarrhoea.
In the 18th century Skullcap was being used in mainstream American medicine for the treatment of rabies, particularly for the hysteria associated with this awful disease. This use as a ‘cure’ for rabies was subsequently discredited but not before earning it common names such as Mad dog weed. Undoubtedly it would have helped to calm any anxiety and reduce spasm in those with the disease.
In the 19th century the Physiomedicalists were using Skullcap as a nervine for conditions of excitability, phobias, anxiety and seizures.
It was considered a specific remedy for the convulsive twitchings of St Vitus’ dance now known to have been an umbrella term for various types of conditions with movement disorders.
What practitioners say
Nervous system: It is a remedy par excellence for relaxing an excitable nervous system. Widely used in western herbal medicine for anxiety and insomnia, palpitations, neuralgia, phobias, muscular twitching, tremors and in epilepsy.
It relaxes at the same time as acting as a tonic for the nervous system. It has good use in debility within a picture of nervous tension. Often prescribed in combination with herbs such as St John’s wort and Oats or adaptogenic herbs such as Ashwagandha or Gotu kola. It can be of good benefit to aid withdrawal from barbiturates and tranquillizers.
It can be taken at the onset of a panic attack and some people find it useful to carry a small bottle of the tincture with them to dose with if they feel acute anxiety coming on.
Gynaecological: Useful in easing any associated nervous tension or emotional lability, skullcap can be put to good use in premenstrual syndrome.
Cardiovascular system: Skullcap can be of benefit in palpitations or in hypertension (in combination with other herbs).
Digestive system: It can be given for digestive problems associated with stress, such as irritable bowel syndrome. The effects of relaxing the higher centres of the nervous system having a knock-on effect on the gut.
Fatigue: Useful in fibromyalgia or post viral fatigue syndrome in combination with oats and certain adaptogens such as ashwagandha, skullcap can be excellent for situations where one feels ‘tired and wired’.
Did you know?
Skullcap and valerian are used in combination by some vets to treat habitual nervousness and anxiety in dogs and cats. This blend can be particularly good for noise phobias such as with thunder or fireworks.
Calming tea blend
- 20g American skullcap
- 20g Passionflower
- 25g Lime blossom
- 10g Valerian root
- 25g German chamomile
- Combine all ingredients and mix well before each brew. Take 2 heaped teaspoonfuls of blend to a cupful of boiling water.
- Cover, let infuse for 8 – 10 minutes and then strain. You can add a small amount of honey if desired, then sit, sip and enjoy!
Authentic American Skullcap is generally considered to be a very safe remedy when given within the therapeutic dosage range.
Limited studies on its use in pregnancy have shown no developmental or other harmful effects. It has a long history of use in women during pregnancy and lactation.
Over-dosage is said to cause confusion, stupor, and sometimes involuntary muscle spasms and twitches similar to epilepsy, however the authenticity of the herb ingested cannot be always verified in reported cases.
Adulteration or substitution can happen with any herb and Skullcap appears to have a bit of a reputation for this. Adulteration or substitution has occurred using other species of skullcap, or other herbs from the mint family and notably with hepatotoxic plants such as those of the Teucrium species. The 22nd edition of the US Dispensary (1937) described Scutellaria lateriflora as one of the most substituted and adulterated herbs in the Materia Medica. This problem was more prevalent in times gone by, however, it remains paramount to source from reputable stockists.
- Nervine tonic
- Mild bitter
In terms of the medicinal effects of the whole plant, unlike Scutellaria baicalensis, little has been carried out in the way of robust scientific research on Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), when not in a combination product with other herbs.
Antioxidant potential studies showed that there are no significant differences between S. lateriflora, S. baicalensis and a third species – S. racemosa.
A piece of work was done in 2014 looking at clinical applications of certain herbal medicines for anxiety and insomnia concerning patients with bipolar disorder. Skullcap, with the proposed mechanism of action being modulation of GABA receptors, showed some efficacy in meta-analysis of RCT within the psychiatric population for insomnia and marked efficacy in at least one RCT on healthy subjects for anxiety.
A small single-dose study was carried out on 19 healthy subjects with skullcap, the effects monitored and evaluated at regular intervals following administration. There was a noticeable decrease in anxiety with no adverse effects on cognition or energy levels.
In a placebo-controlled, double-blind, crossover study, 43 healthy, relatively non-anxious participants were randomised to taking 350 mg skullcap three times daily or placebo, each over two weeks. In this population there was no significant difference between skullcap and placebo, however, there was a significant group effect, suggesting a carryover effect of skullcap.
With regard to Total Mood Disturbance measured by the Profile of Mood States, there was a significant decrease from pre-test scores with skullcap but not placebo. Skullcap significantly enhanced global mood without a reduction in energy or cognition.
Further studies assessing the anti-anxiety effects of skullcap in notably anxious participants is required.
To see the references used in this summary check our downloadable Expert Herbal Reality Resource pdf
3-6 g per day of the dried aerial parts
2-4.5 mL per day of a 1:2 liquid extract or equivalent capsule or tablet form