Scutellaria lateriflora (mad-dog skullcap) is a plant of the mint family native to North America. It was used for its healing properties by Native American tribes, and later adopted by European settlers. As a nervine tonic, skullcap has traditionally been used as a remedy for mental disorders.
In this article, I will focus on skullcap’s effects over sleep and dreams. In general, Scutellaria lateriflora is a moderate-strength sleep-inducing herb and may also prevent nightmares and anxious dreams.
Effects / Actions
Scutellaria lateriflora is a nervine tonic, meaning that it strengthens and tones the nervous system, and a moderate-strength relaxing nervine.
It is also a moderate-strength hypnotic with sedative, antispasmodic, astringent, and moderate-strength hypotensive (blood pressure-lowering) effects.
How does it work?
As a nervine tonic, Scutellaria lateriflora provides support to the Adrenal Medulla, which is responsible for the stress response mechanism involving rapid increases in nervous system and metabolic activity through secretion of the hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline. Skullcap provides general systemic support to help ease the impact of tension and anxiety.
- Flavonoids (such as baicalein, baicalin, scutellarin, scutellarein, and wogonin)
- Iridoids (including catalpol)
- Glutamine – an amino acid with sedative and anxiolytic effects
- Volatile oil
Scutellarin was found to
- kill ovarian and breast tumor cells.
- protect nerve cells.
- be a potential treatment for eye problems in diabetes.
- have anti-HIV effects.
- have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
Most interesting to me however is that scutellarin exhibits sedative and antispasmodic effects. Apparently, it does this by binding to the receptor (GABA-A) of a neurotransmitter in the brain (GABA) responsible for modulating anxiety.
Baicalein may also have anti-inflammatory effects. However, along with its analogue baicalin, baicalein also affects the GABA-A receptor, thereby inducing an anti-anxiety effect without sedation or muscle relaxation. It is also an antagonist of the estrogen receptor and therefore may exhibit antiestrogen effects. It may also have antidepressant effects.
Wogonin has been found in one study to have anxiolytic properties without exhibiting the sedative and muscle-relaxing properties of benzodiazepines. It also has anti-tumor properties, anticonvulsant effects, and is a positive allosteric modulator of the benzodiazepine site of the GABA-A receptor.
Parts used: Aerial parts.
As a sedative and nerve tonic, Scutellaria lateriflora is prescribed for problems associated with stress, nervous and muscular tension, headaches, anxiety, fibromyalgia, chorea, hysteria, irritability, agitation, restlessness and nervous excitability, insomnia, nightmares, and restless sleep, among other conditions.
Indications: Effectively soothes nervous tension while renewing and revivifying the central nervous system. It is great for any condition associated with exhaustion or depressed states, including premenstrual tension. May also be used for delirium tremens and by people withdrawing from excessive use of alcohol and certain prescription drugs.
It can also be used to control and treat epileptiform convulsions and absence seizures (petit mal seizures), which are brief, usually less than 15 seconds, seizures, involving symptoms that may be barely noticeable.
For insomnia and sleep difficulties, use regularly until until the diet is improved to the extent that herbs are unnecessary.
Anecdotal evidence indicates this herb may be useful for currently incurable sleep disorders such as as idiopathic hypersomnia (IH) and narcolepsy. A sufferer of IH reports: “This has been a miracle herb for me. Without it I sleep 12-14 hours a day, with it I sleep 9-ish. I take it as a herbal tea throughout the day.”
From the perspective of traditional Chinese medicine, skullcap reduces Liver wind symptoms, such as pain that comes and goes or moves, dizziness, vertigo, ringing in the ears, paralysis, manic-depression nervousness fits, unstable personality, agitation, emotional turmoil, inability to keep commitments, and uneasiness.
Drowsiness may result from use of skullcap.
This herb may potentiate the effects of sedative medications.
Preparation and Dosage
Take 3 times a day (or as needed):
- 2-4 ml of a 1:5 in 40% tincture.
- 1-2 ml of a 1:5 in 45% tincture.
- 2-4 ml of a 1:1 in 25% fluid extract.
- Infusion – pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1-2 teaspoons (1-2 grams) of dried herb (with or without stems, flowers, fruits) and infuse for 10-15 minutes. Strain, cool, and drink.
- 850 mg capsule containing leaves, stems, and fruits (twice a day) or 850-1275 mg just leaves (3 times daily)
Skullcap is also used as a component in smoking blends.
More than 350 species of Scutellaria are found worldwide.
Scutellaria arvense is said to have psychoactive or hallucinogenic effects.
Some species of Scutellaria may also have hepatoprotective properties. For example, Scutellaria rivularis improved pathological hepatic lesions caused by a number of liver toxins.
Chinese skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis)
The root of the Chinese skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis) is the traditional medicine huang-qin (Radix Scutellariae), which has been used for more than 2,000 years. The root is harvested in spring after 3-4 years’ growth, then dried until 50% dry. The bark is then scraped off, and the root fully dried.
Similar species include:
- Scutellaria amoena
- Scutellaria rehderiana
- Scutellaria viscidula
Its properties are bitter and cold and it enters the following channels:
- Large Intestine
Chinese skullcap is not a sleep/dream herb, but classified as a Heat-Clearing and Dampness-Drying Herb and used for conditions such as hypertension and hepatitis.
Scutellaria baicalensis is one of the ingredients of Sho-Saiko-To, a Chinese herbal supplement (standardized to contain at least 20 mg baicalin per serving), believed to enhance liver health.
Chen, J. K. and Chen, T. T., Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology. Art of Medicine Press, Inc. City of Industry, CA, USA.
Hoffmann, D. (2003), Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Healing Arts Press: Rochester, Vermont.
Johnson, R., L. and K. M.D., D., Guide to Medicinal Herbs: The World’s Most Effective Healing Plants. National Geographic: Washington, D.C.
Pitchford, Paul, Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition. North Atlantic Books.
Rätsch, C. (1998), The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications. (Translator: Baker, J. R.). Park Street Press: Rochester, Vermont.