Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) is native to North America, but is
now widely cultivated in Europe and other areas of the world. It has been used
for over two hundred years as a mild relaxant and has long been hailed as an
effective therapy for anxiety, nervous tension, and convulsions. Because of its
calming effects on the nervous and musculoskeletal system, it was also at one
time considered to be a remedy for rabies, thus it's name "mad dog weed."
Scutellaria lateriflora is one species of skullcap that is used in
herbal preparations. The plant derives its name from the caplike appearance of
the outer whorl of its small blue flowers. Skullcap is a slender, heavily
branched plant that grows to a height of two to four feet and blooms each
The parts of the skullcap plant used for medicinal purposes are the leaves.
These are harvested in June from a three- to four-year-old skullcap
Medicinal Uses and Indications
While scientific studies have not been conducted on the medicinal properties
of Scutellaria lateriflora, its current uses, based on traditional and
clinical practice, include:
Treatment of muscle spasms
Calming of the nerves
It has also been used to treat symptoms associated with:
Restless leg syndrome and other causes of insomnia
Mild Tourette's syndrome (a disorder characterized by multiple motor
and vocal tics)
Chinese Skullcap A closely related herb, Chinese skullcap
(Scuterllaria baicalensis) has actually been the subject of a number of
studies, including those on animals and people. It has anti-oxidative,
anti-inflammatory, and antihistamine properties, which can help treat allergies
such as hay fever (called allergic rhinitis), particularly when used with other
herbs, including stinging nettle.
Cancer Chinese skullcap is also used in Traditional Chinese
Medicine to treat tumors. Early laboratory studies investigating this
traditional use are emerging and showing preliminary promise for combating
bladder, liver, and other types of cancers, at least in test tubes.
In terms of clinical studies on people, skullcap is also one of the eight
herbs that make up PC-SPES, an alternative treatment for prostate cancer. (It is
important to note, however, that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration [FDA]
recently issued a warning to consumers that PC SPES may contain undeclared
prescription drug ingredients that could cause dangerous side effects.)
Other Chinese laboratory research has isolated an element
present in skullcap that may prove useful in treating hepatitis B and has
suggested that the antioxidant properties of Chinese skullcap may prove
beneficial for preventing heart disease or limiting the damage following a heart
attack. Much more research needs to be done in these areas before conclusions
can be drawn.
Skullcap is available as a powder or liquid extract.
How to Take It
Although not common, skullcap may be used for calmative purposes in children
and administered as a mild tea. Use either prepackaged tea bags, letting it
steep for approximately 2 minutes or add 1 tsp of dried leaves to 1 cup of
boiling water and steep for 2 minutes. (Shorter steeping time makes for milder
The tea should be dosed according to the child's age and weight as
Children 1 to 2 years (24 lb [11 kg] or less): ¼ cup one to three
times per day
Children 3 to 6 years (25 to 48 lb [11 to 22 kg]): ½ cup one to four
times per day
Children 7 to 11 years (49 to 95 lb [22 to 43 kg]): ¾ cup one to four
times per day
Children 12 and older (over 95 lb [43 kg]): 1 cup one to four times
The following are recommended adult doses for skullcap:
Dried herb: 1 to 2 grams per day
Tea: Pour 1 cup boiling water over 1 teaspoon of dried herb. Steep 20
to 30 minutes. Drink 2 to 3 cups per day.
Fluid extract (1:1 in 25% alcohol): 2 to 4 mL (40 to 120 drops), three
Tincture (1:5 in 45% alcohol): 2 to 5 mL (40 to 150 drops), three
times per day
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and
treating disease. Herbs, however, contain active substances that can trigger
side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For
these reasons, herbs should be taken with care, under the supervision of a
practitioner knowledgeable in the field of botanical medicine.
There are mixed opinions as to the safety of skullcap because it has, in the
past, been contaminated with Teucrium species, a group of plants known to
cause liver problems. It is therefore important that skullcap be obtained from a
Overdose of skullcap tincture produces giddiness, stupor, mental confusion,
twitching, irregular heartbeat, and epileptic-like symptoms. Skullcap should not
be used during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
While there are no reports in the scientific literature to suggest that
skullcap interacts with any conventional medications, it does possess sedative
properties. Therefore, skullcap should be used with caution, if at all, by those
who are taking benzodiazepines (anti-anxiety medications) such as diazepam or
alprazolam, barbiturates (medications often prescribed for sleep disorders or
seizures) such as pentobarbital, or other sedative medications (including
Brinker F. Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions. 2nd ed.
Sandy, Ore: Eclectic Medical; 1998:163.
Cauffield JS, Forbes HJ. Dietary supplements used in the treatment of
depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders. Lippincotts Prim Care Pract.
Darzynkiewicz Z, Traganos F, Wu JM, Chen S. Chinese herbal mixture PC-SPES in
treatment of prostate cancer (Review). Int J Oncol. 2000;17:729-736.
Fisher C. Nettles - an aid to the treatment of allergic rhinitis. European
Journal of Herbal Medicine. 1997;3(2):34-35.
Foster S, Tyler VE. Tyler's Honest Herbal. New York, NY: The Haworth
Herbal Press; 1999:349-351.
Gao Z, Huang K, Xu H. Protective effects of flavonoids in the roots of
Scutellaria baicalensis Georgi against hydrogen peroxide-induced
oxidative stress in HS-SY5Y cells. Pharmacol Res. 2001;43(2):173-178.
Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Christof J. PDR for Herbal Medicines. 2nd ed.
Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company; 2000:678-679.
Huang RL, Chen CC, Huang HL, Chang CG, Chen CF, Chang C, Hsieh MT.
Anti-hepatitis B virus effects of wogonin isolated from Scutellaria
baicalensis. Planta Med. 2000;66(8):694-698.
Ikemoto S, Sugimura K, Yoshida N, et al. Antitumor effects of Scutellariae
radix and its components baicalein, baicalin, and wogonin on bladder cancer cell
lines. Urology. 2000;55(6):951-955.
Larrey D, Vial T, Pauwels A,et al. Hepatitis after germander
(Teucrium chamaedrys) administration: another instance of herbal medicine
toxicity. Ann Coll Physicians. 1992; 117: 129-132.
Miller LG, Murray WJ, eds. Herbal Medicinals: A Clinician's Guide. New
York, NY: Pharmaceutical Products Press; 1998.
Newall C, Anderson L, Phillipson J. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for
Health-care Professionals. London: Pharmaceutical Press; 1996: 239-240.
Shao ZH, Vanden Hoek TL, Qin Y, et al. Baicalein attenuates oxidant stress in
cardiomyocytes. Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol.
Watanabe S, Kitade Y, Maski T, Nishioba M, Satoh K, Nishino H. Effects of
lycopene and Sho-saiko-to on hepatocarcinogenesis in a rat model of sponstaneous
liver cancer. Nutr Cancer. 2001;39(1):96-101
White L, Mavor S. Kids, Herbs, Health. Loveland, Colo: Interweave Press;
Review Date: April 2002
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Jacqueline A. Hart, MD,
Department of Internal Medicine, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Harvard University
and Senior Medical Editor Integrative Medicine, Boston, MA; Gary Kracoff, RPh
(Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Johnson Drugs, Natick, MA; Steven
Ottariono, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Veteran's
Administrative Hospital, Londonderry, NH; R. Lynn Shumake, PD, Director,
Alternative Medicine Apothecary, Blue Mountain Apothecary & Healing Arts,
University of Maryland Medical Center, Glenwood, MD; David Winston, Herbalist
(January 2000), Herbalist and Alchemist, Inc., Washington, NJ. All interaction
sections have also been reviewed by a team of experts including Joseph Lamb, MD
(July 2000), The Integrative Medicine Works, Alexandria, VA;Enrico Liva, ND, RPh
(August 2000), Vital Nutrients, Middletown, CT; Brian T Sanderoff, PD, BS in
Pharmacy (March 2000), Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Maryland
School of Pharmacy; President, Your Prescription for Health, Owings Mills, MD;
Ira Zunin, MD, MPH, MBA (July 2000), President and Chairman, Hawaii State
Consortium for Integrative Medicine, Honolulu,
The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of
the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse
of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage
to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or
otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents
of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds
currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a
guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information
provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare
practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts)
regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications
before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed