Skullcap is basically a perennial herb, scientifically known as Scutellaria baicalensis. It belongs to the same family as mint (Labiatae), and adapts well to sunny locations at higher altitudes. The preferable soil conditions for growing this herb are dry soil enriched with sandy and rocky particles. In short, it thrives best in areas that resemble their native habitat. Most parts of the plant, including stem, leaves, and roots are used for medicinal purposes.
The plant grows to a height of about 2 feet. The leaves are heart-shaped and are borne in opposite phyllotaxy. The flowers are hooded (characteristic of the Labiatae family) and blue or violet in color. The plant is supported by short rhizomatous, skinless, yellow-colored roots. Even though all parts of the herb are used in herbal medicine, the roots contain higher percentage of active ingredients than leaves and stem.
Indigenous to Eastern Asia, S. baicalensis is commonly known as Chinese skullcap or baical skullcap. Another species popularly used in herbal medicine is Scutellaria lateriflora, which is native to North America. Majority of cultivars hold valuable importance as herbal remedies of various medical conditions. Possessing various healing properties, the root extract has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for 2,000 years.
Other than the extract, the root is also sold in bulk in herbal stores. One can also find tablets formulated from this root. Needless to say, the extract or tablet available in the market may contain other additives, which may cause certain side effects. In order to avoid such cases, one can get the roots and make the extract on their own. Or else, dried powder can also be used for making herbal tea. The tea can be made by adding 2 teaspoons of the root powder in 1 cup boiling water.
Benefits and Side Effects
As per the traditional Chinese medicine, the benefits of this herb are numerous. Because of its use in the treatment of rabies, it was once known as mad-dog weed. The high antioxidant content makes it effective in fighting against the damaging effects of free radicals. It can be used alone or in conjunction with other medicinal herbs for the treatment of various nervous disorders (insomnia, anxiety, hysteria, etc.) and medical problems. Overall, it promotes the immune system of the body.
In contemporary medicine, the root is used for the treatment of diarrhea, dysentery, common cold, nosebleed, infections, menstrual cramps, stomach pain, and eye redness. Skullcap root is also used as a potent anticancer agent, especially for reducing the spread of liver and bladder cancer. It possesses antihistamine properties, which is beneficial for overcoming asthma, hay fever, inflammatory skin conditions, and other allergies.
Similar to any other medicinal herb, it has certain side effects. Nevertheless, taking the root in the recommended dosage may not pose any adverse effect. Till now there has been no study to check the effectiveness of this root in the treatment of various ailments in children and pregnant women. Hence, to be on the safer side, children and expecting mothers should avoid taking it or take it under strict medical supervision.
Currently, studies are going on to study the healing properties of this root for the treatment of arthritis, cancer, heart disease, and hepatitis.