Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)
Skullcap is a herbaceous perennial with a four-angled, smooth stem with many branches, attaining a height of between 30 cm to 160 cm when mature. Skullcap has small hairless leaves, borne on petioles about 5-8 cm long, the leaves themselves about 2.5-5 cm long by 1-1.5 cm wide, ovate, with a rounded base, an acute tip, the leaf margin acutely serrate. The flowers are borne in axillary racemes that arise from the leaf axils, flowers on only one side. They are pale blue, blossoming in summer, comprised of a fused upper and lower sepal, the upper sepal with a raised appendage that looks like a helmet or hood. The petals are fused into a two-lipped corolla, with four stamens. The flower gives way to four small nutlets.
A closely related herb, Chinese skullcap (Scuterllaria baicalensis) has actually been the subject of a number of studies, including those on animals and people. It has anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory, and antihistamine properties, which can help treat allergies such as hay fever (called allergic rhinitis), particularly when used with other herbs, including stinging nettle. Chinese skullcap is also used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat tumors. Early laboratory studies investigating this traditional use are emerging and showing preliminary promise for combating bladder, liver, and other types of cancers, at least in test tubes. In terms of clinical studies on people, skullcap is also one of the eight herbs that make up PC-SPES, an alternative treatment for prostate cancer. (It is important to note, however, that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration [FDA] recently issued a warning to consumers that PC SPES may contain undeclared prescription drug ingredients that could cause dangerous side effects.)
Skullcap relaxes states of nervous tension while simultaneously renewing & reviving the central nervous system. Skullcap has traditionally been used in combination with Valerian as a mild sedative for anxiety. It has also been used in patented medicines for "female problems". It has a specific use in the treatment of seizure and hysterical states, as well as epilepsy. This herb may also be used in all exhausted or depressed conditions, and can be used in the easing of pre-menstrual tension. Primary chemical constituents of Skullcap include lignan, tannin, essential oil, flavonoids (scutellarin), scutellonin, isoscutellarin, wogonin, baicalin, baicalein, beta-sitosterol, bitter (scutellaine) palmitic acid, stearic acid, linoleic acid, oleic acid, phenols, tannin, calcium, B vitamins. Chinese research has shown that extracts of Skullcap are active against a range of bacteria, and that the herb is an effective antiviral agent to treat the flu. It is often prescribed for acute tonsillitis and strep throat. The constituent baicalin also appears to inhibit tumor growth and has strong anti-inflammatory activity. Both baicalin and baicalein are powerful antioxidants, protecting red blood cells from free radical damage better than vitamin E can. They both show some promise in preventing the oxidation of blood fats, although baicalein appears to be more active. Skullcap has strong tonic, nervine and antispasmodic action, and is slightly astringent. This herb also aids sleep, improves circulation, strengthens heart muscles, increases blood clotting time, relieves muscle cramps, pain, spasms and stress. Skullcap is useful in treating anxiety, fatigue, cardiovascular disease, headache, hyperactivity, nervous disorders and rheumatism. This botanical has also shown potential in treating barbiturate addiction and drug withdrawal. And finally, Skullcap improves motor ability and impairment of the senses. Scutellarin is transformed by hydrolysis into scutellarein which helps stimulate the brain to produce more endorphins - this is said to enhance both awareness and calmness.