Soothe Anxiety with Skullcap

It’s not a trendy superstar, but this workhorse of the herb world is a true American original.
Publish date:
Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) has a long history of use in the herbal systems of North America, and more recently, in Europe. Its other common names—helmet flower, hoodwort, and Quaker bonnet—give you an idea what the flower looks like.

Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)

Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) has a long history of use in the herbal systems of North America, and more recently, in Europe. Its other common names—helmet flower, hoodwort, and Quaker bonnet—give you an idea what the flower looks like. As a member of the mint family, skullcap is found in the rich woods and moist soils of North America—from Newfoundland to British Columbia and south to Georgia and California. But although it’s a mint, it has a bitter taste, and isn’t particularly aromatic.

Skullcap has a cooling, drying energy, and its aerial parts (leaf, stem, and flower) have a variety of uses in herbal medicine. The Cherokee and Iroquois nations used skullcap tea to stimulate delayed menstruation. The Eclectics, the dominant herbal legacy in 1800s America, extensively wrote about, and copiously employed, skullcap for a wide range of issues. It was used by 19th-century herbalists to treat a condition that today we might call fibromyalgia (muscle, ligament, and tendon pain). It was once known as “mad dog skullcap” and was historically used to treat rabies.

Did You Know?

Skullcap is a uniquely American herb first used by the Cherokee and Iroquois peoples.

Skullcap Studies Are Impressive

Today, skullcap is best known as a safe, reliable, mild sedative that excels in relieving anxiety, neuralgia, and insomnia. It treats high blood pressure, premenstrual syndrome, tension headache, and muscle spasm. Some contemporary herbalists also use it to control Braxton-Hicks contractions during late pregnancy.

One recent study found that rats exhibited less anxiety after a dose of skullcap. And a double-blind, crossover human study of 15 women and 4 men, aged 20–70 years, found that, in healthy subjects, skullcap “demonstrated noteworthy anxiolytic effects.” Another study in 2014 found that, in healthy people, skullcap significantly enhanced overall mood without a reduction in energy or cognition.

Skullcap also serves as a nerve tonic and tissue rejuvenator, and many recent scientific papers have found it to be protective for nerve tissue. In addition, it seems to have a protective effect on the liver, as well as anticancer activity. These qualities suggest that skullcap could be effective for seizure and movement (chorea) disorders, including a variety of twitches, ticks, and tremors, for which it has been used for centuries.

A study published in Phytotherapy Research found that rodents prone to seizures that drank water containing skullcap extract were seizure-free, while the control group continued to have seizures.

Skullcap’s calming action is thought to be mainly due to its antispasmodic constituent scutellarin, a flavonoid glycoside. Another constituent, the flavonoid baicalin, is known to bind to the GABAA receptor, a sedating neural receptor sensitive to many sedating drugs, including Valium.

How Much & What Form to Take

Skullcap is available in teas, capsules, tablets, and tinctures. For a tea, start with 10 grams of the dry herb. Infuse the chopped dry leaves, strain, and drink. Use several small doses throughout the day for anxiety, or the entire dose at bedtime for insomnia. In tincture form, the equivalent dose is 8 tsp. Fresh herb tinctures are strongly preferred.

Historically, skullcap’s effectiveness has been enhanced when combined with valerian, chamomile, passionflower, and vervain, so it shows up in many combination formulas for sleep and anxiety.

There’s not enough information on the pharmacological activity and toxicity of skullcap to comment on its use during pregnancy and lactation; however, no specific contraindications have come to light. Modern midwives sometimes use skullcap for insomnia, sciatica, and stress during pregnancy. 



Herbal Superstars

Adaptogenic herbs are prized in other countries for their harmonizing effect on the body-now it's your turn to experience their true medicinal magic.

Angelica root (Angelica archangelica) is a perennial herb that has been cultivated since ancient times. In Northern Europe, the plant has been used as medicine and food since at least the 10th century.

Angelica: A Saintly Herb

Discover how this herbal gem can help clear up coughs, tame menstrual cramps, ease stomach problems, including heartburn, gas, and bloating—and more.

Colds and flu are caused by viruses. These bugs cannot be killed by chemicals—not by pharmaceutical drugs, and not by herbal compounds. The only way to tame these microbes is to motivate the body’s own immune system.

Surprising Herbs for the Flu

You know all about echinacea and wouldn’t dream of facing winter without elderberry, but don’t overlook these lesser-known—but potent— botanical cold and flu fighters.

All holistic healing systems share two core concepts: ensuring that the body eliminates its metabolic wastes and preventing harmful substances from entering the body and wreaking havoc.

Head-to-Toe Detox Plan

Celebrities trumpet it. Infomercials drone on about it. Here’s what you really need to know about cleansing each of your body’s major detox organs.

Walk barefoot on the dirt or sand for a few minutes to connect to the earth‘s natural energy charge. Called “earthing,” this practice contributes to vibrant health.

Natural Stress Relievers

If you don’t have a healthy way to deal with stress, it’s so easy to crumble. Consider creating a foundational support system for your life with these stress-busting ideas.


Master Menopause

Learn to treat the symptoms of this normal transition with the top three natural alternatives to prescription hormones