Scullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)

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Description

Native to North America, skullcap still grows wild in much of the US and Canada, thriving in such damp conditions as river bank, and requiring plenty of sun. The herb is perennial, growing to about two feet in height with an erect, many-branched stem and pink to blue flowers that grow along one side of the stem. It is cultivated in Europe. The aerial parts are harvested in the summer when in flower from three or four year old plants. There are about 300 species of Scutellaria that can be found virtually everywhere in the world, except South Africa.

Its botanical name (lateriflora) resulted from the way the dish-shaped seedpods and flowers grow on only one side of the stem.

There are eight species of skullcap found throughout the Prairie Bioregion of North America. The herb was used by Native Americans for rabies long before its adoption by European herbalists, thus its nickname of Mad dog. There has been much controversy over the use of the plant in treating hydrophobia. In an 1830 herbal, that controversy was referred to when one doctor, in 1772, claimed to have cured 400 persons and 1,000 cattle who had been bitten by “mad dogs;” and many other physicians claimed the same success. However, several other physicians denied these facts. It seems, history does not change. Adding to the confusion, the plant was listed in the US Pharmacopoeia from 1863 to 1916 and in the National Formulary from 1916 to 1947. On the other hand, the US Dispensatory stated in its 21st-23rd editions (1926-1944) that it was “as destitute of medicinal properties as a plant may be”.

The Mesquakies used the small skullcap (Scutellaria parvula) in the treatment of diarrhea.

The Cherokee used skullcap to stimulate menstruation, relieve breast pain, and encourage the expulsion of the placenta after childbirth. It was also used in purification ceremonies when menstrual taboos were broken.

Followers of a 19th century Anglo-American school of herbal medicine were called Physiomedicalists and were the first to discover skullcap’s use as a nerve tonic. They recognized that it had a “deeper” action on the nervous system than any other herb and used it for hysteria, epilepsy convulsions, and such serious mental illnesses as schizophrenia.

In 1973, ninety-two wooden tablets were discovered in a 2nd century tomb in northwestern China. Among the herbs listed there was baical skullcap. Other prescriptions were noted as well, including decoctions, tinctures, pills, and ointments. This Chinese variety of skullcap has a long and central place in Chinese herbal medicine and used to treat “hot and damp” conditions as dysentery and diarrhea.

Key Actions

  • antispasmodic
  • mild bitter
  • relaxing nervine

Key Components

  • flavonoids (scutellarin)
  • tannins
  • bitter iridoids (catalpol)
  • volatile oil
  • minerals

Cautions

Recent research is showing that the liver toxicity associated with the herb may be caused by germander, an herb that is occasionally sold as skullcap.

Additional information

Weight 1 lbs
Type & Size

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