by Lauren Stauber, Certified Clinical Herbalist and Nutritionist

Skullcap Herb

Latin Name
Scutellaria lateriflora

Common Names
Skullcap, Blue Skullcap and American Skullcap

Mint (Lamiaceae)

Parts used
Leaf and flower are most common, root is used in some traditions.

One of about 300 Skullcaps worldwide, Scutellaria lateriflora is the species most commonly used and written about in Western Herbalism. You'll find this blue-flowered, North American native growing happily in damp, shady places.

Medicinal Properties
A widely valued restorative tonic for the nervous system, Scutellaria lateriflora is an ally for stress affecting the body and mind. This slightly bitter, not very aromatic mint has cell-protecting, anti-inflammatory, muscle-relaxing, and gently sedative properties, as well as many nourishing minerals. It is specific for anxiety and "raw nerves" rooted in exhaustion, with symptoms like muscle spasms, tremors, tension headaches, or sensations of heat. I find Skullcap has a special way of smoothing out the rough edges and grounding me back into my breath and body, so I can focus, and ultimately rest. This could be a great long-term tonic for the high-strung college student burning the candle at both ends, or the under-slept, over-worried new parent. A strong infusion is wonderful when I need help shutting off my mind at the end of the day. In small doses it is not heavily sedating like Hops or Valerian, making it appropriate for daytime use. I find it invites a calm, relaxed attention, great for meditation or study.

While not the strongest pain herb, Skullcap is quite useful for chronic and acute pains of many kinds, (more as tincture than as tea), and is especially applicable when an emotional charge is attached to pain. Its bitter and antispasmodic properties make it a nice addition to blends for indigestion and intestinal gripping. It is specific for acute drug and alcohol withdrawal, and fortifies long-term recovery by deeply nourishing the nervous system while quieting obsessive thought patterns. While Skullcap is ideal for people with warmer constitutions, it can be balanced in a formula to suit almost anyone. It is fine for children and the elderly in appropriate doses. This herb has much to offer as a tonic for body and mind, and it is increasingly one of my favorite herbs to work with!

Contraindications and cautions
Some find it more sedative than others, so start with smaller doses to find your own balance. Avoid during pregnancy, unless instructed by a qualified practitioner. Skullcap supplements are often adulterated with Germander, a hepatotoxic herb. Make sure you are getting your skullcap from a reputable source (like Rebecca's!) and that it is true Scutellaria spp.

Tea infusion (boiling can render the medicine inert), tincture, powder.

A Simple Nervine Tonic
1 part Skullcap
1 part Oatstraw (or 1/2 Oatstraw, 1/2 Oat Tops)
1 part Spearmint or Lemonbalm
To spice up the formula, add 1/4 - 1/2 part Ginger and/or Cinnamon
To moisten, add 1/2 part Marshmallow or 1/4 part Licorice
To add some zing and enhance nutrient value, add 1 part Rosehips.
To enhance restorative properties, add 30 drops Tincture of Milky Oats per cup.
Other herbs can be added to fine tune and personalize this formula.

Pour 1 cup almost boiling water over 1 rounded Tbsp. of tea.
Cover and steep 15 - 30 minutes, strain and enjoy.

You might try pairing Skullcap with
  • Catnip and/or Chamomile for indigestion-induced insomnia
  • Passionflower for mental restlessness and anxiety
  • Lemonbalm for sadness
  • Rosemary and/or Tulsi Basil to focus the mind or meditate
  • Wood Betony, Lavender and/or Blue Vervain for headache
  • Cramp Bark and/or Wild Yam for menstrual cramps
  • Ashwaghanda and/or Oats for recovery from long-term stress

The Earthwise Herbal (New World Plants) by Matthew Wood
Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra
A Treasury of American Indian Herbs by Virginia Scully
The Physiomedical Dispensatory (1869) by William Cook, M. D.
King's American Dispensatory (1898) by Felter and Lloyd
Writings of 7Song, Kiva Rose, and Paul Bergner
Lecture by Corey Pine Shane