Helpful Herbs: Skullcap

September 20, 2016

It has a dark name, but the herb known as Skullcap can actually be a healer.  A powerful herb, this beautiful plant can be cultivated or found in the wild, and easily incorporates into tinctures and healing drinks.

 

With the Latin name Scutellaria Lateriflora, Skullcap got its skeletal name from the shape of its calyx or outer area of the flower.  It is also known colloquially as hoodwort, Quaker bonnet, helmet flower, and mad dog weed.  

 

A tall perennial, Skullcap is usually started from seed and will re-seed itself naturally in the fall.  The plants grow up to 24" tall and prefer well drained, fertile soil in full or dappled sun.  In the wild it will flourish on the edge of marshlands and in meadows, liking damp but not muddy soil.  Skullcap can be finicky about its soil preferences, so experimenting with it and trying different amounts of watering will help you find the sweet spot. The flowers of Skullcap are usually blue, purple, or pink, and have a distinctive helmet shape.  

 

To harvest Skullcap clip the long, flowery stalks down to about three inches from the ground.  Tinctures and salves can be made with the freshly harvested leaves and flowers, and its leaves can also be dried to make a tea with other herbs.

 

Skullcap is generally used to treat insomnia and anxiety.  Dosage suggestions should be carefully followed, because too much of the herb will make one drowsy and dizzy.  For example, Skullcap tea is made using only 1-2 teaspoons of dried leaves (possibly in conjunction with other leaves).  Skullcap herbs are very calming and have been used as a natural remedy for ADHD, delirium tremens, and epilepsy.  An infusion of Skullcap is also used for headaches, and it also has anti-inflmmatory properties that can make it soothing in the treatment of coughs.  Skullcap is sometimes used to promote menstruation and can cause a miscarriage if given to a pregnant woman.  

 

Traditionally Skullcap is often used in conjunction with another helpful herb, St. John's Wort.  The Cherokee and other Native American tribes grew Skullcap for a variety of medicinal benefits, including the treatment of digestive issues and schizophrenia.  It is said that Skullcap was also used as an herb to induce visions.  The related Chinese variety of Skullcap has shown promise in treating Alzheimer's Disease and during the 18th Century Skullcap was a natural treatment for rabies.

 

Because Skullcap has fairly powerful sedative properties and is sometimes called a natural narcotic, it should be used sparingly and in small doses to avoid unwanted side effects.

 

Unique and striking Skullcap flowers add a beautiful flourish to the herb garden, a flourish that can be easily turned into a treatment for many ailments.  

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