Over the course of our herbal studies, we have synthesized a lot of information about individual herbs we work with from our growing herbal library. We plan to put together thoroughly researched monographs for each of our favorite herbs in the coming months, so stay tuned! The first herb we’re covering is our lovely friend Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora). Enjoy!
Scullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)
Habitat and Growing Conditions:
Skullcap is a transcontinental species (Moore 305). It grows in rich woods and thickets, near streams and meadows in the mountains, and bottomlands in the United States and Canada (Moore 305, Youngken 665). Skullcap is a “shy member of the mint family” (Gladstar p18). It grows by creeping roots, and can establish large stands (Moore 305).
Skullcap has pairs of pink to blue flowers and distinctive seed capsules which, when dry, look like skullcaps. It is a perennial growing to 2ft, with an erect, many-branched stem. (Chevallier 134).
There are about 100 species of Scutellaria. European skullcap (S. galericulata) and lesser skullcap (S. minor) were used in a similar way to S. lateriflora, but today are considered to have less therapeutic action. Baical skullcap (S. baicalensis) is also closely related, and is used extensively in Traditional Chinese Medicine (Chevallier 134).
Leaves are opposite, lance-ovate or ovate-oblong, prominently petiolate, the lamina with acute apex, rounded or sub-cordate base and coarsely serrate margin. Venation is pinnate-reticulate. The upper surface is dark green, nearly glabrous; the lower surface is pale green with few non-glandular hairs and many glandular hairs. The inflorescences are axillary and terminal racemes, occasionally 1-sided racemes of blue or rarely white or pink, bilabiate flowers. 4 stamens are present in the flowers. The fruit consists of 4 brown nutlets, enclosed by a persistent calyx with the shape of a Quakers bonnet. Stem quadrangular, averagely 1-4 mm thick, color varies from purplish brown to brown to yellowish-green. (Youngken 665-666).
Flowers grow only on one side of the stem, hence it’s botanical name S. lateriflora (Ody 118).
Parts used, Harvest Info:
The aerial parts are harvested in summer (July-September, late in the flowering period (Chevallier 134, Hoffman 227, Youngken 666).
Skullcap has a deep action on the nervous system. (Chevallier 134) It is considered to be a Nerve Tonic for it’s ability to feed, tone, rehabilitate and strengthen the nervous system (Gladstar 17).
Mild Bitter Tonic (Youngken 667, Chevallier 134): The bitter properties may assist in promoting healthy digestion. As a tonic on many levels, it is safe for using over longer periods of time to build up and nourish the nervous system.
Nerve Sedative: relaxes the nervous system and helps reduce pain, tension, and aids with sleeping. (Gladstar 17).
Antispasmodic (Chevallier 134, Youngken 667): prevents and eases spasms and cramps in the body.
Skullcap relaxes states of nervous tension while renewing and revivifying the central nervous system. It may be used in all exhausted or depressed conditions. It can also be used safely in easing pre-menstrual tension (Hoffman 227).
Good for oversensitivity of the peripheral nerves, such as sciatica, shingles, facial pain, acupuncture/bodywork sensitivity; also for insomnia from sensory irritability (Moore, 305).
Good for headaches, nerve tremors, stress, menstrual tension, insomnia, nervous exhaustion (Gladstar 18).
Mixes well with other sedative herbs to relieve menstrual pain and treat insomnia (Chevallier 134),
Contain the bitter flavonoid glycoside scuttellarin and scutellarein, volatile oils, bitter iridoids (catalpol), tannins, minerals. (Gladstar, Chevallier 134, Ody 118).
The dried plant loses a lot of strength, and according to Michael Moore, a 1:2 fresh plant tincture is the only proper form to use (Moore 305).
There is no danger of overdose or build-up if used over a long period of time – in fact it is recommended to use skullcap over an extended period and in adequate doses (Gladstar).
Skullcap is excellent in infusion/tea preparations (Gladstar).
Infusion/Tea: 3x daily (Chevallier 134), tincture, 3ml with water twice a day (Chevallier 134).
Skullcap is commonly adulterated with the American species Teucrium Canadensis, which can cause hepatotoxicity, and this adulteration is probably the reason for any hepatotoxic reports concerning Scutellaria lateriflora (Brinker 188).
1. Chevallier, Andrew. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants: A practical guide to more than 550 key medicinal plants and their uses. London, 1996.
2. Moore, Michael. Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West. USA, 1993.
3. Hoffman, David. The Holistic Herbal. Dorset, 1983.
4. Gladstar, Rosemary. The Science and Art of Herbology, Lesson One.
5. Youngken, Heber. A textbook of pharmacognosy. Philadelphia, 1936.
6. Brinker, Francis. The toxicology of botanical medicines. Sandy, Oregon 2000.
7. Ody, Penelope. Natural health complete guide to medicinal herbs.