Although skullcap sounds like it might be a somewhat deadly plant, it was named due to the resemblance of its petals to medieval soldiers' helmets. Skullcap is actually a beneficial herb with many health benefits.
It has a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine and Native American medicine. For certain Native American tribes, skullcap was used especially for females. It's also been used for everything from headaches to diarrhea to mood disorders. (1)
Skullcap has gained the most attention in recent times because of its calming potential that can help with pain, anxiety, and sleep. Here's more about skullcap and the major benefits of this herb.
What Is Skullcap?
Skullcap is the common name for a genus of plants known botanically as Scutellaria. All species of Scutellaria belong to the mint family and several are used medicinally.
Two species have been used and studied the most for their health benefits: American skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) and Chinese skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis). American skullcap used to go by the name of "Mad Dog" because it was once used to treat rabies. Chinese skullcap also goes by a few other names including Huang-Qin and baikal.
The plants are typically found growing in damp places in the wild. They can grow about three feet high and bloom with tiny blue flowers. Unlike other members of the mint family, the leaves are not highly aromatic.
Most often, the leaves of American skullcap are used medicinally, while Chinese practitioners often use the dried roots of Chinese skullcap. (2)
Top Benefits of Skullcap
Eases Stress and Anxiety
One of the biggest benefits of American skullcap is its ability to calm stress and soothe anxious feelings. It's known by herbalists as a nervine, which means an herb used to calm nerves and anxiety. Other familiar nervines include chamomile, hops, and valerian.
Normally, nervines often have a side effect of drowsiness, but skullcap has a unique ability to calm your mind and body without inducing sleepiness.
Clinical research indicates that this calming effect likely happens because compounds in skullcap stimulate gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is a neurotransmitter that calms nerves and is believed to be key for treating anxiety. (3)
One small study confirmed that skullcap can indeed have a significant positive impact on mood without decreasing energy levels. (4)
Helps With Sleep
Even though it won't make you drowsy, skullcap is often used to promote better sleep. Because it calms nerves and an anxious mind, skullcap can be very effective at helping you sleep if your sleep problems are stress-related.
Although not much research has been done in this area, some research indicates that baicalin (a compound found in both American and Chinese skullcap) may be responsible for its positive effects on sleep. (5)
You can try a strong cup of skullcap tea a few hours before bedtime to calm your mind. The herb is also frequently combined with other calming herbs and those that do have a sedative-like effect.
Passionflower, lemon balm, and skullcap are a frequent combination for a sleep tea. You can try this mix along with other calming herbs like chamomile is this Sweet Slumber tea.
Anti-Inflammatory and Pain-Relieving Properties
One traditional use for American skullcap was as a menstrual tonic. It contains anti-inflammatory compounds and also has antispasmodic properties that make it especially useful for pain related to muscle tension.
This is likely why it was used for menstrual cramps and is often recommended as an herb for headache relief.
Chinese skullcap has also been frequently used to calm inflammation. It contains plant compounds known as flavones that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. (2)
Just like for sleep, other herbs are often combined with skullcap to make a more effective blend. To ease a headache, try this Headache Releaf blend with skullcap, lemon balm, lavender, and peppermint.
Contains Powerful Antioxidants
Antioxidants are now known to be vital for our health because they protect against oxidative stress and free radicals that cause many chronic diseases, including cancer. (6)
Many plants and herbs naturally contain high concentrations of antioxidants, which is why they are such an important part of living a healthy life. Baicalin, an antioxidant found in American and Chinese skullcap, has demonstrated anticancer potential in several studies and may also protect brain health. (7)
A compound found in American skullcap, scutellarein, has likewise shown an ability to stop the development of certain cancer cells and reduced tumors in animals. (8)
These antioxidants also have neuroprotective abilities, meaning they can protect brain cells and support brain health. Chinese skullcap was one of several herbs shown to protect neuronal cells, which may help in the search for a preventative treatment for Alzheimer's. (9)
More research is still needed, but the antioxidants found in skullcap and many other herbs are proving themselves vital for a healthy body and mind.
How to Use Skullcap
Skullcap is most often used as an herbal tea or a tincture. You can buy the dried leaves (or roots for Chinese skullcap) and make your own herbal preparations at home or buy the pre-made versions.
Making a tea with skullcap is simple:
- Add 1-2 teaspoons of the dried leaves (or 3-4 ounces of the dried root) to a heat-proof mug or jar and pour in 8 ounces of hot water.
- Cover and let your tea steep for 15-20 minutes.
- Strain out the herbs and sweeten if desired.
- You can also combine skullcap with other herbs like lemon balm, passionflower, or valerian. Or make a sleep tea with an already mixed herbal blend.
Skullcap was once associated with a risk for liver damage. However, it was discovered in further research that the reports of liver damage were from herbal blends that were adulterated with germander, an herb that can cause liver damage and is commonly substituted for skullcap by unethical manufacturers. (10)
While you don't need to worry about liver damage, you do want to make sure you buy skullcap from reputable sellers that test for contaminants.
Otherwise, skullcap is generally a safe herb with few reported side effects. Chinese skullcap can cause blood sugar levels to drop, so consult with your doctor first if you're diabetic.
Discover the Benefits of Skullcap
If you struggle at all with stress, anxiety, or tension, you can get some powerful benefits from trying skullcap. It's an ancient herb with a lot of history and some important modern uses.
You can try it for headaches, sleep, or to help ease menstrual cramps. Use it alone or blend it with other herbs to support your body and mind!