Skullcap: Everything You Need To Know

Skullcap: Everything You Need To Know

Skullcap, also known as hoodwort, mad-dog, and helmet flower, is a member of the mint family. Both the roots and the leaves can be put to good use.

Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) is a flowering plant in the mint family. The herb has been used for centuries as a natural mood-booster, and for a variety of other purposes.

What Is Skullcap?

What is Skullcap?

Skullcap is a hardy perennial flowering plant with a lot of uses. The name of the plant comes from the Latin word "scutella", which means “little dish”, in reference to the plant’s small flowers that look like helmets with the visor raised.

Skullcap grows natively in North America, but variations of the plant can be found throughout Europe and Asia. Various parts of the plant, including the roots and leaves, have been used in traditional Chinese and Native American practices for centuries. The plant has a soothing and mood-enhancing effect and can provide a mild “high” when consumed.

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Different Types Of Skullcap

DIFFERENT TYPES OF SKULLCAP

There are several slightly different types of skullcap, which all belong to the Scutellaria genus. The most common types used in herbalism are the American and Chinese skullcap varieties.

American skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) is native to North America. When the plant goes into bloom, it shows off many small, tubular blue flowers. Some varieties can also display different colours. Among Native Americans, the plant has played an important role in traditional herbal applications.

Chinese skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis) can be found in several Asian countries and in Russia. Since ancient times, the plant's roots have been used in China to make a preparation known as huang qin. It is most often used in combination with other plants or foods.

Botany Of Skullcap

BOTANY OF SKULLCAP

Skullcap, along with basil, mint, rosemary, sage, marjoram, oregano, and other widely known culinary herbs, belongs to a family of flowering plants in the mint family known as Lamiaceae. It is a hardy perennial that is normally found growing in damp habitats such as marshes and meadows.

The plant grows to a height of 60–80cm and produces small blue or purple flowers just under 1cm in length. Unlike some other flowering plants, skullcap's flowers do not grow on top of the stem but instead along the length of the plant’s side branches.

Main active compounds in skullcap:

  • Flavonoids including scutellarin and wogonin
  • Bitter iridoids, mainly catalpol
  • Tannins
  • Volatile oils


Several flavonoids have been identified as the major active components in skullcap: scutellarin, wogonin, baicalein, and baicalin. It also contains bitter iridoids including catalpol as well as tannins and volatile oils. Each of these compounds is known to exert specific physiological effects depending on dosage.

How To Grow Skullcap

HOW TO GROW SKULLCAP

Skullcap prefers partial shade to full sun and is suitable for hardiness zones 4–8 (USDA scale). Seeds usually have good germination rates but can do even better with a short period of stratification in the refrigerator for a week. Plant seeds flat about 0.5cm deep and set outside once the first true leaves develop.

When planting directly outdoors, place seeds 30cm apart in well-draining, fertile soil. Water moderately. Seeds will germinate after 7–14 days. Skullcap is ready to harvest after about 120 days.

You can harvest skullcap when the flowers are in full bloom. Use scissors and cut the flowers and leaves. Make sure to leave around 8cm of growth when harvesting. Being perennial plants, skullcap can live for several years.

Historical Use Of Skullcap

HISTORICAL USE OF SKULLCAP

For thousands of years, skullcap has been used in traditional Chinese practices to make a tonic known as huang qin. Dried skullcap root is either boiled in water or extracted into alcohol to create huang qin. The tonic was first mentioned as a beneficial preparation in the Shuowen Jiezi, an early 2nd-century Chinese dictionary from the Han Dynasty.

Skullcap was also well-known among Native Americans. Healers of the Cherokee and other Native American tribes used the plant mostly as an herb to help with mood swings during menstruation.

Effects Of Skullcap

EFFECTS OF SKULLCAP

  • Mood-boosting — Cheers you up when you’re feeling low
  • Relaxing — Helps with tension and nervous feelings
  • Soothing — Promotes restful sleep

American skullcap is thought to interact with the brain to produce profound feelings of serenity and relaxation.

Related article

Why You Should Use Skullcap, The Herb That Induces Relaxation


A study[1] published in 2013 observed a group of people who took American skullcap daily for two weeks. The participants reported significant enhancements in mood compared to placebo.

Both American and Chinese skullcap contain a wealth of compounds, including antioxidants and flavonoids, that help protect cells against oxidative damage. Furthermore, Chinese skullcap contains compounds thought to promote healthy digestion. Skullcap doesn’t just exert its effect internally, but externally too. Wogonin, a flavonoid found in Chinese and American skullcap, has a soothing effect on the skin.
Disclaimer:
We are not making medical claims. This article has been written for informational purposes only, and is based on research published by other externals sources.

External Resources:
  1. American Skullcap (Scutellaria Lateriflora): A Randomised, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Crossover Study of Its Effects on Mood in Healthy Volunteers - PubMed - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23878109