Scutellaria Lateriflora, or Skullcap, is native to the moist woods and meadows of North America. Sometimes known as Virginia Skullcap or Mad Dog Skullcap, it is a hardy perennial that has branching stems, oval leaves and produces blue tubular flowers in the summer. The aerial parts of the plant are the most commonly used part of the herb.
Skullcap is most frequently used as a tonic to calm the nerves. The aerial parts are sedative and anti-spasmodic. In the past, it was used to treat conditions such as epilepsy and rabies. It reduces nervous tension, induces inner calm and eases insomnia. Today, it is commonly taken for depression, anxiety and nervous exhaustion; also for symptoms related to premenstrual syndrome, rheumatism and neuralgia. It has been used for easing the pain of muscular sclerosis as well.
One of the more interesting applications of Skullcap is its use in easing withdrawal symptoms from alcohol or drug dependence. It has detoxification properties that often prevent or lessen the severity of withdrawal symptoms such as delirium tremens. For the purpose of withdrawing from drugs and alcohol, skullcap is usually taken by itself, in tincture form, every few hours.
For help with sleeplessness, a typical sedative formula combines equal parts skullcap, valerian and hops, either in a tea or tincture. It is best taken one half hour before you would like to go to sleep.
Skullcap also has a close relative in its Labiatae family, found in Chinese Medicine. Scutellaria, or Huang Chi, is an annual. The roots are the most regularly used part of the plant, as opposed to American Skullcap which primarily utilizes the flowers and leaves. Huang Chi is most often used as a cooling, antipyretic herb. It sedates in a very different way, removing heat toxin from the heart, lungs and liver. It has been used to treat jaundice, fevers, boils, carbuncles, sores, liver disease and pneumonia.
Both Skullcap and Huang Chi have enjoyed a long history of use and are highly respected plant medicines. Though they are generally considered safe, neither herb should be taken without first consulting a health professional who is well versed in herbs.
American Skullcap can be cultivated in your own backyard. It is best started indoors, and takes about two weeks to sprout. Transplant it outside after the danger of frost has passed. Space seedlings about 12 inches apart, it will grow in large clumps. Skullcap does well in full sun to partial shade, and prefers well drained, moist soil. The aerial parts are harvested when the herb is in full flower. Cut it with scissors, about three inches above the ground.
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