Scullcap is a member of the mint family. Scutellaria lateriflora grows in eastern North America and is most commonly used in United States and European herbal products containing scullcap. The above-ground (aerial) part of the plant is used in herbal preparations. It is not interchangeable with Chinese scullcap.
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American scullcap is one of a group of “nerve tonic” (nervine) herbs used in traditional herbal medicine for people with anxiety, with few reports of toxicity.
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American scullcap is commonly recommended by doctors as a mild sedative for those suffering from insomnia or nervous exhaustion.
Combining valerian root with other mildly sedating herbs is common both in Europe and the United States. Chamomile, hops, passion flower, lemon balm, American scullcap, and catnip are commonly recommended by doctors.3 These herbs can also be used alone as mild sedatives for those suffering from insomnia or nervous exhaustion. Chamomile is a particularly good choice for younger children whose insomnia may be related to gastrointestinal upset. Hops and lemon balm are approved by the German government for relieving sleep disturbances.4
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American skullcap has been historically used to relieve pain.
Few studies have been completed on the constituents of American scullcap. One of its constituents, scutellarian, has been reportedly shown to have mild sedative and antispasmodic actions in animal studies.5 Human trials have not yet been conducted to confirm the use of scullcap for anxiety or insomnia.
Scullcap tea can be made by pouring 1 cup (250 ml) of boiling water over 1–2 teaspoons (5–10 grams) of the dried herb and steeping for 10 to 15 minutes. This tea may be drunk three times per day.6 Alternatively, tincture made from fresh scullcap, 1/3–3/4 teaspoon (2–4 ml) three times per day, may be taken.
Use of scullcap in recommended amounts is generally safe. However, scullcap use during pregnancy and breast-feeding should be avoided due to limited information about its safety. Cases of liver damage have been reported in association with the intake of scullcap. However, on closer examination, it appears these scullcap products actually contained germander (Teucrium chamaedrys), an herb known to cause liver damage.7
One case report exists of a 28-year-old man who died of liver failure after taking unspecified amounts of scullcap, pau d’arco and zinc.8 It appears likely that this, too, may have been a case of adulteration of scullcap with germander.9
1. Hoffman D. The Herbal Handbook: A User's Guide to Medical Herbalism. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 1988, 77.
2. Murray MT. The Healing Power of Herbs. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1995.
3. Brown DJ. Herbal Prescriptions for Better Health. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1996, 279.
4. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin: American Botanical Council and Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 147, 160-1.
5. Foster S. Herbs for Your Health. Loveland, CO: Interweave Press, 1996, 86-7.
6. Hoffmann D. The New Holistic Herbal. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1990, 233.
7. McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, Goldberg A. American Herbal Products Association's Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1997, 105.
8. Hullar TE, Sapers BL, Ridker PM, et al. Herbal toxicity and fatal hepatic failure [letter]. Am J Med 1999;106:267-8.
9. Brown D. A case of fatal liver failure associated with herbal products. Healthnotes Rev Complement Integrative Med 1999;6:176-7.
Last Review: 07-08-2014
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