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Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora [Latin]), also known as helmet flower, blue pimpernel, Quaker bonnet, hoodwort, and mad dog weed, was used in colonial America to treat rabies. This plant grows wild in the woods and swamps of eastern North America, and produces a flower that resembles a hat, or "skull cap", worn by American colonists.

Skullcap may have acquired the reputation as a treatment for rabies from its tranquilizing effect on the central nervous system. Clinical studies have demonstrated skullcap's ability to improve blood flow in the brain, inhibit muscle spasms, and act as a sedative. Some alternative health practitioners are now using senna to help treat symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Initial research has also shown that skullcap's ability to increase the supply of blood to the brain may help prevent strokes. In China, one species of skullcap, S. baicalensis, is used to treat high blood pressure and insomnia. S. baicalensis is also believed to have antioxidant effects, as well as antihistamine and anti-inflammatory effects, and is used by practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine to treat allergies, tumors, and prostate cancer.

Skullcap grows wild from May through August in many parts of North America, and is easily identified by its flowers, which resemble little purple bells, or "caps." Harvest the leaves throughout the summer and dry them for future use. You can also make a relaxing homebrewed tea from skullcap by adding 2 teaspoons of dried skullcap leaves to 1 cup of hot water and drinking it three times each day.

Skullcap is also available in commercially prepared capsules, and bulk powder and liquid extract forms. Be sure to follow the dosage instructions on the package-overdoses of skullcap may cause confusion, hyperactivity, twitching or seizure. Women who are pregnant should avoid this herb since it was traditionally used to promote menstruation, and those that are already taking sedatives or tranquilizers should not take this herb as it may increase the effects of those medications.

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