Virginia Skullcap

This is a cosmopolitan genus of about 300 species of annuals and perennials. Scutellaria baicalensis is an attractive small perennial fo borders. Its first mention as a medicinal herb is in the Shen Nong Canon of Herbs, which dates back to the later Han dynasty (CE25-220). It has been well-researched in China and found to contain flavonoids that improve liver function and have anti-inflammatory and anti-allergenic effects. The Himalayan Scutellaria barbata (barbed skullcap) is also used, mainly as a detoxicant for certain kinds of cancer, liver diseases, poisonous bites, pharyngitis. Scutellaria laterifolia (Virginia skullcap) is widely grown in herb gardens and nurseries, although many plants labeled as such are in fact S. altissima, a larger plant with showier flowers; care should be taken to check the identity of plants grown for medicinal use. Virginian skullcap was used by native tribes, such as the Cherokee, for menstrual problems, but rose to fame in the 18th century after a Dr. Vandesveer began using it as a cure for rabies, hence its common name, "mad dog skullcap". The plant was first listed as a sedative and anti-spasmodic in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia in 1863 and was widely used by the Physiomedicalists (followers of Samuel Thomson) as a remedy for convulsions, epilepsy and schizophrenia. The European S. galericulata appears to have similar constituents to S. baicalensis, and is used as a substitute for S. lateriflora. Scutellaria is from the Latin scutella "a small dish", referring to the pouch-like appearance of the fruit's calyx.

Perennial with slender rhizomes and thin, ovate-lanceolate, toothed leaves, to 8cm (3in) long. Blue, occasionally pink or white flowers are produced in one-sided, mostly axillary racemes in summer.

Common Name:
Virginia Skullcap
Other Names:
Mad Dog Skullcap
Botanical Name:
Scutellaria lateriflora
Native Location:
Native to N America, especially north and west
Light, well-drained soil in sun or partial shade. Scutellaria lateriflora enjoys damp conditions. Scutellaria baicalensis need sharp drainage and tolerates drough. Cut back to within 7-10cm (3-4in) of the base in early spring and pinch out in spring to encourage bushy growth.
By seed sown in autumn; by division in autumn or spring; by basal or semi-ripe cuttings in spring or summer.
ROots (S. baicalensis) are lifted in autumn or spring from plants 3-4 year old, and dried for decoctions. Plants (S. lateriflora) are cut when flowering for use in infusions, liquid extract, and tinctures, or dried for tablets.
15-75cm (6-30in)
45cm (18in)
Parts Used:
Whole Plant
Chemical Constituents:
  • Cellulose
  • Fat
  • Scutellarin
  • Sugar
  • Tannins
  • Properties:
    A bitter, sedative herb that relaxes spasms, lowers fever, and stimulates the kidnes.
    Known Effects:
  • Increases stomach acidity
  • Irritates mucous membranes
  • Relieves spasm in skeletal or smooth muscle
  • Interferes with the absorption of iron and other minerals when taken internally
  • Possible Additional Effects:
  • May stimulate appetite
  • May relieve intestinal cramps
  • Medicinal Uses:
    Internally for nervous and convulsive complaints, insomnia, tension headaches, nervous exhaustion, irritability, delerium tremens, neuralgia, and withdrawal from barbiturates and tranquilizers.
    Warnings and Precautions:
    Excess causes giddiness, stupor, confusion, and twitching.
    Contraindicated during pregnancy.

    Don't take if you:
    Are pregnant, think you are pregnant, or plan pregnancy in the near future.
    Consult your doctor if you:
  • Take this herb for any medical problem that doesn't improve in 2 weeks (There may be safer, more effective treatments.)
  • Take any medicinal drugs or herbs including aspirins, laxatives, cold and cough remedies, antacids, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, supplements, other prescription or non-prescription drugs

  • Pregnancy:
    Don't use unless prescribed by your doctor.
    Don't use unless prescribed by your doctor.
    Infants and Children:
    Treating infants and children under 2 with any herbal preparation is hazardous.
    None are expected if you are beyond childhood, not pregnant, under 45, basically healthy, take it only for a short time and do not exceed manufacturer's recommended dose.
  • Store in cool, dry area away from direct light. Don't freeze.
  • Store safely out of reach of children.
  • Do not store in bathroom medicine cabinet. Heat and moisture may change the action of the herb.

  • Safe Dosage:
    Consult your doctor for the appropriate dose for your condition.
    Rated relatively safe when taken in appropriate quantities for short periods of time.
    Adverse Reactions, Side Effects, or Overdose Symptoms:
    Signs and Symptoms What to do

    Confusion Discontinue. Call doctor immediately.
    Giddiness Discontinue. Call doctor when convenient.
    Irregular Heartbeat Seek emergency treatment
    Stupor Seek emergency treatment
    Encyclopedia of Herbs by Deni Brown Copyright © 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited Pp 364-365
    Vitamins, Herbs, Minerals, & Supplements The Complete Guide by H. Winter Griffith, MD Copyright©1998 Fisher Books pp. 456-457