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What is scullcap?

Scullcap is a member of the mint family native. The most commonly used species of scullcap is S. laterifolia, which is found in the moist woodlands of North America. Other species, most notably S. baicalensis georgi, are used in Europe and Asia.

While both species look alike and appear to have a number of common active ingredients, they are used very differently. In the U.S., the above-ground parts of scullcap, such as the leaves and stem, are dried and used in herbal preparations. In China, dried scullcap root is used medicinally.

Scullcap has traditionally been used along with valerian as a mild sedative and to treat insomnia. In the 19th century, it was used by physicians as a treatment for rabies, earning the nickname "mad dog weed." While it was effective in reducing the muscle spasms associated with rabies, it couldn’t cure patients of the disease.

Today, Chinese scullcap is typically used to skin inflammations, allergic diseases, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. One of its constituents, baicilin, inhibits the spread of HIV and also appears to prevent tumor growth. Few studies have documented the efficacy of American scullcap. However, one of its ingredients, scutellarian, appears to work as a sedative and may prevent muscle spasms.

How much scullcap should I take?

No standard dosage of scullcap has been established in the U.S. or Europe. In traditional Chinese medicine, Chinese scullcap is recommended as a tea using between 3-9 grams of dried scullcap root. Baicilin is usually sold in 250mg tablets.

What forms of scullcap are available?

In addition to dried scullcap root, many health food stores sell tablets of baicilin. Some stores sell baicilin extracts, which are either injected or swallowed.

What can happen if I take too much scullcap? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

When taken at normal doses, scullcap does not result in any serious side-effects. However, large doses of scullcap may cause liver damage, and baicilin injections may cause fever, muscle pain, and a lowered white blood cell count. Because of a lack of studies into scullcap, the herb should be avoided by pregnant or lactating women. As always, consult with your health care provider before taking scullcap (or any dietary supplement).

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  • Foster S. Herbs for Your Health. Loveland, CO: Interweave Press, 1996, pp. 86—87.
  • Hoffman D. The Herbal Handbook: A User’s Guide to Medical Herbalism. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 1988, p. 77.
  • Newall CA, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-Care Professionals. London: Pharmaceutical Press, 1996, pp. 239—40.
  • McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, Goldberg A. American Herbal Product Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1997, p. 105.
  • Scullcap. History and uses. From: The Wampole Family Guide to Nutritional Supplements. Available online at http://www.wampole.ca/english/scullcap.htm.


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