Skullcap may sound like the hat you put on your head during the winter months, but in this case, it’s actually a medicinal plant that’s long been used for healing purposes, particularly in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
This herb has been used as an alternative medicine to help reduce inflammation, provide relief from spasms, stimulate blood flow in the pelvic region, help eliminate headaches, reduce fever and induce relaxation.
Additionally, it’s been thought to improve conditions such as epilepsy, insomnia, hysteria and anxiety. And research shows that the Cherokee and other Native American tribes were dependent upon skullcap as a way to maintain good health in the female reproductive system.
It’s likely safe to assume that this plant that’s been used for centuries, in various cultures and types of medicine, has the powder to benefit your health naturally.
What Is Skullcap?
Skullcap, which is named due to its shape resembling that of a medieval helmet, is of the mint family, Lamiaceae, and ranges from blue to pink in color. It’s a slender plant with many branches reaching two to four feet in height. In the summer, small, blue flowers present themselves as a shape that resembles a helmet or cap.
This medicinal plant references two herbs: American skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) and Chinese skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis), with each being used to improve different conditions.
The common name for skullcap used in America was “mad dog” during the 19th century because of its ability to heal animals and humans from rabies. Other popular names include scullcap, hoodwort, quaker bonnet, helmet flower, blue pimpernel, hooded willow herb and mad weed.
In addition to its reputation as an effective remedy against rabies, skullcap was used by Native Americans to promote menstruation. A root extraction was often taken after childbirth to help heal the reproductive system. The Iroquois used it to keep the throat clear and healthy, and it was used to induce visions as a ceremonial plant to be smoked by some Native Americans.
Chinese physicians are known to have used the root, called huang qin, for antibacterial purposes, as a diuretic, an antispasmodic and to help with bile flow.
And in Nepal, the plant is used as a folk remedy for the common cold, cuts and insect stings. Additionally, some homeopaths have indicated it as a treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome and even epilepsy.
1. May Help Fight Cancer Cells
Research shows that Chinese skullcap extract is toxic to cancer cells, such as brain tumor cells, prostate cancer cells, and head and neck squamous cell carcinoma cell lines. Studies indicate that aqueous extracts suppressed the growth of lymphoma and myeloma cells.
It’s believed that certain flavones, which are antioxidants within the plant, are responsible for these anticancer effects, ultimately inhibiting the growth. This may happen due to the free radical scavenging characteristics it contains, which prevents viral infections.
One of these flavones is known as baicalein. In a study published in the Beijing Science Bulletin, it appeared as though the baicalein did not cause any mutations, which is a serious problem of many conventional anticancer drugs available today.
Another study published in the International Journal of Molecular Medicine investigated the effects of the extract from skullcap on fibrosarcoma (a highly metastatic cancer of the connective tissue) and showed possible anticancer characteristics.
The rate at which cancer cells grew was significantly suppressed by treatment through apoptosis, and the volume and weight of tumors were greatly reduced as well. It appears as though the plant helped prevent further inhibition and migration of cancer cells, indicating its potential as a natural cancer treatment.
2. Calms Anxiety as a Nerve Tonic
For more than two centuries, American skullcap has been used by both Americans and Europeans as a nerve tonic to help treat anxiety. Research has shown that the plant contains “anxiolytic activity” in animals and humans.
Oxidative stress affects some brain-related diseases, such as anxiety, Alzheimer’s disease, depression and Parkinson’s disease, yet research indicates that bioactive compounds found in medicinal plants, such as skullcap, may neutralize and even eliminate toxic free radicals.
When this occurs, oxidative stress is greatly reduced. Skullcap for anxiety may work because of its ability to provide significant antioxidant effects, which could make it a great option for reducing anxiety.
3. Reduces Inflammation
Chinese scutellaria has some pretty effective anti-inflammatory properties. Many who suffer with arthritis and inflammatory bowel diseases are known for using skullcap as a home remedy.
A 2007 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine evaluated selected herbs for their ability to protect neuronal cells. Researchers found that ginger and turmeric extracts exhibited the most protective effects, followed by skullcap, ginkgo biloba, Chinese cinnamon and Korean rhubarb.
Researchers concluded that these selective herbs may be potentially important resources to discover natural drug candidates against the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
4. Can Help You Get Some Shut-Eye
While skullcap may relieve anxiety, it also can help those who experience insomnia and other sleeping problems, such as restlessness, muscle tension and clenching the jaws.
Research analyzing the use of herbal medicine for insomnia suggests that herbs including skullcap, lemon balm and passion flower are often used to improve sleep. A skullcap tea or tincture could be useful before bed to help you relax, ward off anxiety and give you some well-deserved and much-needed sleep.
5. Reduces Risk of Heart Disease
A recent study aimed to investigate the cardioprotective effects of baicalein, which comes from skullcap roots, suggests that the plant may help to protect heart health.
Subjects were injected with isoproterenol (ISO), which induced acute myocardial infarction. Pretreatment with baicalein greatly reversed alterations induced by the ISO with results showing higher levels of antioxidant defense enzymes.
Overall, the study revealed cardioprotective effects of baicalein, giving evidence that pretreatment could prevent, and possibly terminate, some heart disease conditions, such as myocardial infarction.
6. Lowers Fever Caused from the Flu
According to a 2014 study by the Korean Food Research Institute, skullcap may help reduce fever. Tests were conducted by administering the herb to subjects who had a food allergy.
Temperature was monitored, and results indicated that the group given the skullcap demonstrated a drop in body temperature.
Studies also indicate that some severe cases of illness involving fever may be treated with skullcap. Combined with other medicinal herbs, such as fried bitter apricot seeds and unprocessed rhubarb, it’s been shown to help reduce high fever, cough and shortness of breath while reducing heart palpitations, anxiety and irritation.
7. May Treat Epilepsy and Reduce Muscle Spasms
Research shows that Ayurveda techniques and treatments using herbal medicine, such as skullcap, may be helpful in treating epilepsy. Specifically, skullcap Ramayana #16 is an Ayurvedic herbal preparation that’s been reported as being used for epilepsy treatment.
In addition, 18 healing Ayurvedic ingredients were combined using a base of honey and herbal ghee. Reports suggest that this cocktail of herbal ingredients helped to reduce tremors, muscle spasms, nerve-related symptoms and headaches, ultimately aiding in the treatment of side effects caused from epileptic patients.
An animal study out of Laurentian University in Canada showed that skullcap may reduce the risk and occurrence of seizures. Male rats were given skullcap for a period of time after being diagnosed with epilepsy and did not have seizures, while those not given the herb did. Interestingly, when the treatment was removed, seizures did occur.
Types and Uses
The skullcap herb can usually be found in the form of a tea, liquid extract, tincture, capsule or crude root extract. Health food stores often provide it as a tonic in combination with valerian root and passion flower for insomnia. It can also be found as a yellow oil.
Making a skullcap tea or tincture is probably the best way to use the plant. To make a tincture, you need a ½ pint jar, ½ cup of dried skullcap leaves and 100 proof vodka to fill your jar.
Keep in mind that this is not for children as it contains alcohol, and small amounts is all you need. Just follow these directions:
- Fill your jar with the dried leaves about halfway.
- Add the vodka over the leaves until the jar is full.
- Blend it well, then put the lid on it.
- Make sure to label the jar with the date since you cannot decant it for six weeks.
- During the first week, open and stir daily. You want the tincture to infuse for about five more weeks. Simply shake the jar once or twice a day.
- Once the six weeks have passed, strain the tincture using a cheesecloth or coffee filter.
- Once filtered, you can place it back into the jar you were using; make sure to clean it well first. You can also use a smaller bottle with a dropper.
- Pour the tincture into your chosen jar, and make sure to label it.
To use your DIY skullcap tincture, simply:
- Take a teaspoon or dropper full at night or before meals.
- Start slowly to make sure you have positive effects. You can dilute it in warm water if you prefer.
If skullcap tea sounds more comforting to you, take one cup of boiling water with one teaspoon of dried American skullcap or, if going the Chinese route, steep three to nine ounces of the dried root of in one cup of boiling water.
Possible Side Effects
Plants and herbs have been used for centuries for healing the body, but keep in mind that they can cause allergic reactions — and how they interact with other supplements or medications may not be known.
If you’re pregnant or nursing, it may be best to avoid skullcap. Consult your doctor before using it. You should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a health care provider.
It’s important to note that there was a period of time when American skullcap was contaminated with germander, which is a group of plants that may cause liver problems. To avoid this, make sure you obtain skullcap from a reliable source and that it’s 100 percent pure.
There have been reports of skullcap use being implicated in rare instances of liver injury. However, most cases involved people taking multiple herbal medications, so the exact role of skullcap in liver damage was unclear.
Although researchers believe that liver damage from skullcap is rare and mild symptoms usually resolves rapidly after taking the herb is stopped, people with liver conditions should avoid using the herb.
Chinese skullcap has been documented as causing blood sugar levels to drop, raising the risk of hypoglycemia. If you’re diabetic, it’s recommended that you avoid Chinese skullcap. Consult your physician.
- Skullcap is a plant that has a long history of medicinal use in a variety of countries. In both Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic medicine, it’s been used relieve anxiety, improve sleep, alleviate muscle spasms and reduce fever.
- Today, you may find skullcap useful for numerous health problems, from aiding in heart disease prevention, to reducing stress and inflammation.
- Skullcap is available in capsule, tincture and tea forms.
- Like all natural remedies, it’s best to take caution and do proper research before taking any herbal remedy — however, you may find that it can help you if taken properly and with the consultation of your doctor.
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