A Tale of Two Skullcaps

This story is about two different types of Scutellaria: Chinese Skullcap, also called Baikal Skullcap; and American or Blue Skullcap. The two Skullcaps have different uses, and different parts are used as well. Both herbs belong to the mint family.

A barrel of Blue Skullcap (with chives)

Blue Skullcap, Scutellaria lateriflora (and simply, Skullcap), is native to eastern North America where is can still be found growing wild in moist woodlands. This plant grows to about knee-high with small blue flowers delicately gracing the squared stems. It can easily be cultivated in the home garden. The above-ground stems and flowers are the parts used in herbal medicine.

This herb is an ally for people who are easily freaked out. Most cases of nervous over-excitement, fearfulness, anxiety, restless sleep and panic attack can be remedied with this herb. The flavonoid compounds have sedative and anti-spasmodic properties, and also stimulate the release of endorphins. A combination of skullcap, linden flower, catnip and hops can be used as a tea or in tincture form for especially fragile nervous conditions such as breaking drug-dependency.

Skullcap stand in bloom

Skullcap herb is a safe, gentle, non-narcotic, non-sedative nervine appropriate for children. It helps the excited child calm down without drowsiness. If your young child has difficulty staying focused or sitting indoors for long periods of time, as in a classroom, this is completely normal, and the remedy is outdoor play in the fresh air. If your child wakens from a bad dream and is afraid to go back to sleep, Skullcap is a remedy you can turn to. In cases of headache, fever or other minor pain, Skullcap eases discomfort and allows for rest or quiet activity; it’s also a good remedy for whining accompanied by chicken pox.

Blue Skullcap can help relieve PMS. It helps reduce the neuralgia, nervous tension and irritability associated with pre-menstrual symptoms, and it is also anti-spasmodic.

Most information concerning American Skullcap is anecdotal, but enough evidence of its positive effects exists to deem it worthy of further study.

Chinese Skullcap is also known as Baikal Skullcap, in reference to its native habitat near the deepest lake in all of Russia, Lake Baikal in eastern Siberia. Scutellaria baicalensis also has blue flowers and is more of a woody-wiry plant. Used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for over 2000 years, it is one of the fifty most important herbs in the practitioner’s repertoire. Chinese Skullcap (another name for it) is considered specific for jaundice, hepatitis, fever and pneumonia, naming just a few conditions. However, it is almost always used in combination with other herbs, such as with Bupleurum (Bupleurum chinense) for hepatitis. Chinese Skullcap is active against types A, B and C hepatitis.

Chinese Skullcap herb

The whole plant is high in melatonin, and has been used as a sleep aid. It has been used for physical and mental exhaustion, insomnia, restlessness and other nervous disorders. Chinese Skullcap is a central nervous system sedative (compare to Blue Skullcap, which is a nervine and not a sedative). It contains free-radical scavengers: synergistic neuroprotective compounds that stimulate brain cell regeneration. This herb is specific Lyme disease treatment for one of the stealthiest bacterial organisms out there, mycoplasma infection, and it protects both brain and CNS tissue. Chinese Skullcap is useful for treating symptoms of all the Lyme-group pathogens, partly because it synergistically helps other herbs cross the blood-brain barrier.

Chinese Skullcap is not directly anti-bacterial – it does not actually kill bacteria – but rather, it interferes with their mechanical ability to infect, steal nutrients, and break off into so much metabolic flotsam polluting your body. It has been used to treat staph and proteus as well as the previously mentioned mycoplasma.

Although not for use with obstructed bile duct, this root is a bile stimulant and can also help restore appetite. It helps reduce inflammation of the liver, and research shows that Chinese Skullcap can normalize liver enzyme levels. It can alleviate the sleep disorders that often accompany liver disease. A broad spectrum anti-viral, S. baicalensis inhibits viral replication and protects cell membranes from viral invasion.

The root of Chinese Skullcap can increase the bioavailability of certain prescription drugs, including insulin and those for reducing blood pressure. Please consult your health care professional before using Chinese Skullcap if you take any medications. Do not use during pregnancy.

Chinese, or Baikal, Skullcap flowers

©  Doreen Shababy

slow down, have a cup of tea

Sources consulted:

“9 Impressive Benefits of Skullcap”, accessed 7/5/17. https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/herbs-and-spices/skullcap.html

Buhner, Stephen Harrod. Herbs for Hepatitis C and the Liver. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2000.

Herbal Anti-Virals. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2013. (Buhner)

Healing Lyme. Silver City, NM:Raven Press, 2015. (Buhner)

Healing Lyme Disease Coinfections. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2013. (Buhner)

Chevallier, Andrew. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. London: Dorling Kindersly Ltd., 1996.

Chin, Wee Yeow and Hsuan Keng. An Illustrated Dictionary of Chinese Medicinal Herbs. Singapore: CRCS Publications, 1992.

Duke, James A., Ph.D. The Green Pharmacy. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1997.

Editors, Magic and Medicine of Plants. Pleasantville, NY: The Reader’s Digest Association, 1986.

Engels, Gayle. “Skullcap”, http://cms.herbalgram.org Issue 83, 2009.

Flaws, Bob. Curing Fibromyalgia Naturally with Chinese Medicine. Boulder, CO: Blue Poppy Press, 2000.

Levi, Juliette de Baïracli. Common Herbs for Natural Health. NY: Schocken Books, 1966, 1974.

Low Dog, Tieraona, M.D. Healthy at Home. Washington D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2014.

Romm, Aviva Jill. Natural Healing for Babies and Children. Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press, 1996.

Tilgner, Sharol, N.D. Herbal Medicine from the Heart of the Earth. Creswell OR: Wise Acres Press, Inc., 1999.

University of Maryland Medical Center. “Skullcap”, ©2017, accessed7/5/17. http:www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/skullcap

Zevin, Igor Vilevich, with Nathaniel Altman and Lilia Vasilevna Zevin. A Russian Herbal. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 1997.