The plant blooms each June, and the herb is usually harvested from plants that are three to four years old. One of the varieties of skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) used as an herbal remedy is indigenous to North America and is also cultivated in Europe. Native Americans used this plant as a ceremonial herb in rituals to help young women come of age. It is traditionally used by herbalists for its calming effect.
Skullcap is considered an effective remedy for nervous disorders, anxiety, hysteria and insomnia. It can also reduce the occurrence of tension headaches and other stress-related pain syndromes by “bringing down” excess levels of agitation that tend to cause tension and tension-related pain. Since it has a calming effect, the herb may also be useful in lowering blood pressure.
Skullcap helps to alleviate symptoms of PMS, restless leg syndrome and fibromyalgia as well.
At one time, it was believed that skullcap could treat rabies, and for this reason, the herb was given the nickname “mad dog weed.” However, skullcap is no longer used as a rabies treatment.
Another form of skullcap used as an herbal remedy is known as Chinese skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis). This variety is thought to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antihistamine properties.
The herb contains a substance known as flavonoid baicalin, which appears to protect the liver. Chinese skullcap is used to treat certain infections, allergies and inflammatory skin conditions, often in combination with other herbs.
It is also being studied for possible anticancer properties. In traditional Chinese medicine, skullcap is sometimes given as a treatment for tumors, and preliminary studies show that it may be useful in treating bladder and liver cancer. It is also used in combination with other herbs to make an alternative treatment for prostate cancer known as PC-SPES.
Skullcap is available in powdered form, as a liquid extract and as a tea. Though it is primarily used by adults, it is considered safe to give children a mild tea made from skullcap for its soothing and calming properties. The adult dosage of dried skullcap leaves is about 1 to 2 grams per day for therapeutic results. Fluid extract in the range of 2 to 4 milliliters taken three times per day is reported to be an effective dose.
Skullcap Side Effects
In the past, there has been some concern that skullcap was contaminated by an organism that could cause liver damage. It is important, therefore, to obtain skullcap from a reputable source. If taken in excess, skullcap can cause agitation, confusion, irregular heart beat or twitching.
High doses can also trigger symptoms of epilepsy. While drug interactions have not been reported, skullcap should be used with caution by people taking any kind of sedative or medications that have a sedative effect, including anti-anxiety medications, Phenobarbital, antihistamines and sleep aids.