The skullcap herb is a traditional medicinal plant. Traditional Chinese medical practitioners and Native Americans have been using skullcap for centuries.

Skullcap belongs to the genus Scutellaria. It is a perennial flowering plant that belongs to the bigger mint family. Its Latin name Scuttelaria literally means “little dish.” The name refers to the blue or purple dish-like flowers blooming profusely on the plant’s heavy branches.

Today, the skullcap herb is popular as a herbal supplement. It has a reputation among the alternative health community for treating a wide variety of ailments ranging from insomnia to hemorrhage.

If you are thinking of using skullcap to treat a medical problem or improve your overall health, always consult your doctor first.

The Lowdown on the Skullcap Herb

When we’re talking about skullcap, we’re actually referring to an array of different plants.

The most common varieties are Chinese and American skullcap. Both plants look similar but herbal healers have used them in wildly different ways in the past.

Native Americans, for instance, brewed the leaves of the skullcap herb to make a tea that soothes the nerves. They also drank this tea for those nights their worries kept sleep at bay.

On the other side of the world, traditional Chinese healers made huang qin, a treatment made from the dried root of skullcap to treat coughs, fevers, and sore throat.

Other skullcap species, such as S. barbata, also harbor beneficial properties.


The Science Behind Skullcap

While skullcap is a common herbal remedy for a variety of illnesses, there isn't much hard science to back it up just yet.

But there are a few studies confirming skullcap may be helpful in treating certain conditions. These include anxiety, bacteria-induced pneumonia, and some cancers and inflammatory diseases.

Sleep like a baby tonight

Research proves what the Native Americans knew all along.

Supplementing with the skullcap herb may help reduce the symptoms of anxiety. It can make you feel better during the day and help you go to sleep with ease at night.

In a study on American skullcap, researchers asked the subjects to take 1050 milligrams of skullcap extract every day for two weeks. The results showed supplementing with this herb greatly improved the mood of most participants compared to those in a placebo group.
The researchers believe American skullcap works like most drugs for anxiety. It boosts the production of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). The main role of GABA is to soothe over-excited nerves.

There are no human studies on the Chinese variety yet. However, there’s some research proving that baicalin, a plant compound found in Chinese skullcap, can reduce anxiety symptoms in mice.

Kill off disease-causing bacteria

Barbat skullcap, another variety native to Asia, may be helpful in combating a bacteria that causes pneumonia.

In a study that looked at more than 30 Chinese herbs, researchers found that only S. barbat was able to abolish the drug-resistant bacteria Acinetobacter baumannii (XDRAB).

The barbat skullcap herb has proven to be much better than colistin, an antibiotic used to treat pneumonia.

Doctors believe XDRAB is the most common cause of pneumonia in hospitalized patients.
The results of the study also showed that barbat skullcap was effective in reducing bacteria in the lungs of mice.

Chinese skullcap also features prominently in the herbal remedy CandiBactin. It also contains ginger, licorice, and other Chinese herbs for detoxifying the liver and strengthening the immune system.

Protect against cancer

Both American and Chinese varieties of the skullcap herb are rich in antioxidants.

These plant compounds protect the body against free radicals that can damage the cells and mess with DNA. An imbalance of free radicals can lead to degenerative diseases and cancer.
Skullcap has plenty of antioxidants that combat oxidative stress and ward off cancer and inflammatory conditions.

One study shows that the baicalin in Chinese skullcap can kill prostate and cervical cancer cells. It can also prevent ovarian and pancreatic cells from growing further.

Scutellarein, another antioxidant, may also be effective against fibrosarcoma, an aggressive cancer affecting the connective tissue.


When Not to Use the Skullcap Herb

Not everyone will benefit from supplementing with skullcap.

Because of the relative scarcity of research, pregnant and breastfeeding women should stay away from this herb until research has proven it safe for consumption. Children must also be kept from taking treatments containing all varieties of skullcap.

As a supplement, skullcap can also interact with certain medications and other supplements. If you’re taking blood thinners, painkillers, or sedatives, it’s best to hold off on using this herb.

a person holding different medications

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Diabetics or people with low blood sugar must also avoid skullcap because of its ability to lower blood sugar. Taking skullcap along with medication for diabetes may cause extremely low blood sugar or hypoglycemia.

Some skullcap varieties may also cause negative side effects. Some people have reported experiencing a wide array of side effects. These include twitching, irregular heartbeat, and mental confusion.

In the past, some brands of skullcap supplements contained traces of germander. Germander is known to cause liver problems.

graphic illustration of liver

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Some supplements also contain adulterants or substances that reduce the effectiveness of the main ingredient.

You should always buy skullcap from reputable brands to make sure you’re using a high-quality supplement.

However, if you have issues with your liver, it’s best to err on the side of caution and avoid the skullcap herb altogether.


How to Use Skullcap

dietary supplements in capsule form

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The extract of skullcap is widely available in capsule, powder, or liquid form.

Experts recommend taking 1 to 2 grams of skullcap herb every day, preferably spread out through the day.

You can also brew dried skullcap leaves to make a soothing anti-anxiety tea. Skullcap tea is far less concentrated than skullcap capsules, but it may help with mild anxiety. It’s sometimes combined with other herbs such as chamomile and passionflower to make herbal infusion blends.

You can also use skullcap in tincture form. It’s often blended with the extract of other herbs that are traditionally known to support the nervous system, such as St. John’s wort and valerian root.


A Promising Future for Healing with Skullcap

Skullcap goes back hundreds of years as a powerful medicinal plant.

Healers on both the western and eastern parts of the world have used skullcap to treat a wide variety of conditions.

Modern science provides early evidence that the skullcap herb may be as beneficial as ancient healers purported it to be.

However, there’s still much to be done in terms of research that provides reliable, solid proof of the health benefits of this ancient herb.

It’s best to communicate with your doctor if you want to include the skullcap herb in a treatment plan for any medical condition.

Have you tried using skullcap? How was the experience for you? Share it with us in the comments below.

Featured Image: Public Domain, by Alpsdake via Wikimedia Commons