Skullcap

The herb with the eriee name can be a huge blessing for those with anxiety. There are two forms of skullcap employed for medicinal reasons: American skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) and Chinese skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis). They are not interchangeable. This brief post is focused on American skullcap.

unknownAmerican skullcap is native to North America, but is now widely cultivated elsewhere as well. It has been used for over two centuries as a mild relaxant, for anxiety, nervous tension, and convulsions, which underlies its inclusion in herbal formulas designed to support relaxation and calming. Other research suggests that plants of the Scutellaria genus may exhibit antioxidant, antibacterial and antiviral capacity. Legend has it skullcap was sometimes used as a remedy for rabies, which garnered it the nickname “mad-dog skullcap.”

The anti-seizure effects of American skullcap have been confirmed in animal models. The stress and anxiety reducing potential has been demonstrated in animal and human trials. The flavonoid, baicalin, and its derivative aglycone, baicalein, are capable of binding to the benzodiazepine sites of GABA receptors and acting as GABA agonists, which is likely what underlies skullcap’s anxiolytic effects. If you’ve watched my videos on Glutamate, GABA, and the GAD1 genes, this will all make some sense to you. (see them under our Genetic Tab)

In healthy adults with relatively low levels of anxiety, compared to placebo, oral administration of skullcap (350 mg T.I.D.) for two weeks resulted in significant decreases in total mood disturbance as measured by the Profile of Mood States. These changes occurred without detrimental effects on cognition or physical energy levels, which may be of benefit to individuals who experience adverse side-effects in these areas when using prescription drugs or other compounds for anxiety or nervous tension.

In addition to helping promote calm, extracts of American skullcap are believed to be generally neuroprotective. In vitro studies of mouse brain tissue indicate skullcap is a potent antioxidant and protects against DNA damage induced by oxidative stress. Alcohol and water-based skullcap extracts were effective scavengers of DPPH radicals, and the alcohol-based extract reduced chemically induced lipid peroxidation in the brain.

I like to use adaptogenic herbs with skullcap to help those with anxiety. Make sure you address the genetic component as well!