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Benefits of Skullcap: The Calming Herb

Skullcap is a medicinal plant in the mint family with a long history of use. It’s believed to help promote calm and relaxation and may have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, among other benefits.

There are two different types of skullcap you should know about: American skullcap and Chinese skullcap. American skullcap is derived from the leaves of the plant, whereas Chinese skullcap is derived from the root of the plant. Let’s take a closer look at this popular herbal remedy to help determine whether skullcap is right for you.

What Is Skullcap?

While American skullcap and Chinese skullcap are related and similar in appearance, they are used to treat different conditions. Both are rich in flavonoids, or plant compounds associated with a variety of health-promoting effects.

American skullcap, or scutellaria lateriflora, is commonly used in Western herbal medicine. Americans and Europeans have turned to this herb for more than 200 years as a nerve tonic to help reduce stress and anxiety, sleeplessness, and spasms (1).

Chinese skullcap, or scutellaria baicalensis, has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 2,000 years. The Chinese have used the dried root in the treatment of diarrhea, hypertension, insomnia, inflammation, and respiratory infections, among other conditions (2).

Skullcap Benefits

Medicinal plants like skullcap contain bioactive compounds that may counteract toxic free radicals, thereby reducing oxidative stress. One study found American skullcap to have significant antioxidant effects (3). The authors noted that skullcap should be screened for its therapeutic potential against various mental disorders associated with oxidative stress, such as anxiety and depression.

The root of Chinese skullcap contains a bioactive compound called baicalin that may have neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory effects (4). However, further studies are needed to determine whether baicalin can help prevent and treat neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Many people turn to herbal remedies like skullcap for insomnia. While skullcap and other herbs (e.g., valerian) may help promote sleep, the level of evidence is variable (5).

Both American and Chinese skullcap are said to have anticonvulsant effects (6), but human clinical trials are needed to determine whether either can effectively treat epilepsy.

Herbal treatments like skullcap may also be beneficial for common skin disorders, but most of the evidence supporting their use is anecdotal (7).

An animal study indicated that skullcap may help alleviate food allergy symptoms (8), but more research is needed.

How to Use Skullcap

Skullcap is available in capsule and powder forms, as well as liquid extracts, tinctures, and teas. You may also see skullcap as an ingredient in multi-herb formulations.

Proper dosage depends on your age, health, and other factors, so always speak with your health care provider before taking skullcap.

When buying skullcap, make sure you’re getting it from a reputable brand and always verify what’s inside the bottle. Products from unreliable sources may contain unlabeled ingredients or be contaminated with plants that could potentially cause liver damage, such as germander (teucrium chamaedrys) (9).

If you are on blood thinners or anticoagulants, know that skullcap may increase the risk of bleeding (10). It may also decrease the effectiveness of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs.

Take caution when using skullcap with prescription or over-the-counter drugs that cause sleepiness and drowsiness, as it may increase potential side effects. You should also consider limiting alcohol consumption for the same reason.  

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it’s best to err on the side of caution and avoid taking skullcap.

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