Skullcap is a genus of flowering plants in the mint family, Lamiaceae. They are known scientifically as Scutellaria. The generic name is derived from the Latin scutella, meaning “a small dish, tray or platter”, or “little dish”, referring to the shape of the calyx. The common name alludes to the resemblance of the same structure to “miniature medieval helmets”. The genus has a sub-cosmopolitan distribution, with species occurring nearly worldwide, mainly in temperate regions.
Scutellaria lateriflora is used in herbal medicine as a mild sedative and sleep promoter. Other skullcaps used for similar purposes include common skullcap (S. galericulata), western skullcap (S. canescens), and southern skullcap (S. cordifolia). In a small-scale double-blind, placebo-controlled study, blue skullcap had anxiety-reducing effects in 19 volunteers. S. lateriflora, along with reducing anxiety, significantly enhanced global mood without a reduction in energy or cognition.
β-Elemene in the herb had potential anti-cancer properties in vitro, but studies in humans have not confirmed its effectiveness. Diterpenes isolated from S. barbata had cytotoxic activity against three human cancer cell lines in vitro.
Skullcaps are common herbal remedies in systems of traditional medicine. In traditional Chinese medicine, they are utilized to “clear away the heat-evil and expel superficial evils”. Scutellaria Baicalensis, in particular, is a common component of many preparations. Its root, known as Radix Scutellariae, is the source of the Chinese medicine Huang Qin. It has been in use for over 2000 years as a remedy for, bowel irregularity, such as herbs like Chamomile. It is still in demand today and marketed in volumes that have led to the overexploitation of the wild plant.
In North America, Scutellaria lateriflora was used in Native American medicine to treat gynaecological conditions. Today it is still a popular medicinal herb. It is widely available as a commercial product used in western herbalism to help relieve anxiety and muscle tension.