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Scutellaria laterifolia, Virginian skullcap


Its unverified narcotic properties are thought to be used by modern witches as an aid to flying rather than the substantially more toxic members of the Solanaceae family previously favoured.


Lamiaceae or Labiatae (the Mint family)

Meaning of the Name

From the Latin ‘scutella’, ‘small shield’ or 'dish' from the look of the fruit.
From the Latin ‘latus’, ‘wide’ and ‘folium’, ‘leaf’. From the shape of the leaves.

Scutellaria laterifolia, Virginian skullcap

Scutellaria laterifolia, Virginian skullcap

Common Names and Synonyms

Virginian skullcap, maddog, madweed

How Poisonous, How Harmful?

Contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids which are hepatotoxic. Also mildly narcotic, though the reason for this has not been established, and can cause fits in large doses.

In overdose it was reported to cause mental confusion, stupor, headache, photophobia, retention of urine, bradycardia and languor followed by an inability to rest as the effects wore off.


No reported incidents directly linked to Scutellaria. A 2003 report, however, said that ten, out of twenty, patients being considered for liver transplant, at a centre in the USA, had used herbal remedies with known hepatotoxic properties. Six of these had no other risk factors for liver failure. Though the actual substances taken are not detailed, 'Skullcap' is a widely available herbal supplement. 

Folklore and Facts

Once believed to be able to cure rabies. In American Medicinal plants, Charles F. Millspaugh says that a Dr. Vandesveer, in the late 18th century, claimed to have successfully treated fourteen hundred cases of rabies using Scutellaria. His son, after him, cured forty cases in just three years. Millspaugh is suspicious of these claims as seeming to be an awful lot of cases for one doctor to encounter.

Many shared Millspaugh’s scepticism but it was also supplied by regular doctors as well as quacks. A Dr. White claimed that he had administered it to himself and survived the bite of a rabid dog from which others died. Dr. Williams, who was usually amongst the first to cry ‘charlatan’ or ‘quack’ was a supporter of its efficacy.

Writing in a publication called ‘The Pomegranate’, in 2001, Charles A Clifton of the University of Southern Colorado says that many ‘Neopagans’ shy away from the use of the traditional flying ointments such as belladonna and henbane because of their fear of the toxicity of these plants. He suggests that many of these people rely on Virginian skullcap or the Lactuca virosa, the wild lettuce, using their slightly sedative properties to produce a trance like state.


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Introduction to the A to Z section
Abrus precatorius, rosary pea
Aconitum lycoctonum, wolfsbane
Aconitum napellus, monkshood
Actaea racemosa, black cohosh
Actaea spicata, baneberry
Aesculus hippocastanum, horse chestnut
Amanita muscaria, fly agaric
Aquilegia atrata, columbine
Aristolochia clematitis, birthwort
Artemisia absinthium, wormwood
Arum italicum, Italian cuckoopint
Arum maculatum, cuckoopint
Aspergillus fumigatus
Atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade
Brugmansia suaveolens, angel's trumpet
Bryonia dioica, bryony
Buxus sempervirens, common box
Camellia sinensis, tea
Cannabis sativa, marijuana
Catha edulis, khat
Chelidonium majus, greater celandine
Cimicifuga racemosa, black cohosh
Claviceps purpurea, ergot
Clematis vitalba, old man's beard
Colchicum autumnale, naked ladies
Conium maculatum, poison hemlock
Convallaria majalis, lily of the valley
Cynoglossum officinale, hound’s tongue
Daphne mezereon, spurge olive
Datura stramonium, thorn apple, jimsonweed
Datura suaveolens, angel's trumpet
Delphinium, larkspur
Digitalis spp., foxglove
Dracunculus vulgaris, dragon arum
Echium vulgare, viper’s bugloss
Eranthis hyemalis, winter aconite
Erythroxylum coca, cocaine
Euonymus europaeus, spindle tree
Euphorbia x martinii, red spurge
Euphorbia pulcherrima, poinsettia
Fritillaria spp., fritillary
Galanthus nivalis, snowdrop
Hedera helix, common ivy
Helleborus spp., hellebore
Heracleum mantegazzianum, giant hogweed
Hyacinthoides non-scripta, bluebell
Hyoscyamus niger, black henbane
Ilex aquifolium, holly
Jacobaea vulgaris, ragwort
Juniperus communis, common juniper
Laburnum anagyroides, laburnum
Lactuca serriola, prickly lettuce
Leucojum aestivum, snowflake
Lithospermum officinale, gromwell
Lolium temulentum, darnel
Malus 'John Downie', crab apple
Mandragora officinarum, mandrake
Mercurialis perennis, dog’s mercury
Narcissus, daffodil
Nepeta faassenii, catmint
Nerium oleander, oleander
Nicotiana sylvestris, tobacco
Oenanthe crocata, hemlock water dropwort
Papaver somniferum, opium poppy
Pastinaca sativa, parsnip
Polygonatum odoratum, angular Solomon's seal
Prunus laurocerasus, cherry laurel
Pulsatilla vulgaris, pasque flower
Ranunculus acris, meadow buttercup
Rheum x hybridum, rhubarb
Rhododendron spp.
Rhus radicans, poison ivy
Ricinus communis, castor oil plant
Rosmarinus officinalis, rosemary
Rumex obtusifolius, broad-leaved dock
Ruta graveolens, rue
Salix alba, white willow
Salvia divinorum, sage
Scutellaria laterifolia, Virginian skullcap
Senecio jacobaea, ragwort
Solanum dulcamara, woody nightshade
Solanum melongena, aubergine
Strychnos nux-vomica, poison nut
Symphoricarpos albus, snowberry
Symphytum spp., comfrey
Taxus baccata, yew
Toxicodendron radicans, poison ivy
Thevetia peruviana, yellow oleander
Urtica dioica, stinging nettle
Veratrum album, white hellebore
Verbascum olympicum, Greek mullein
Vinca major, greater periwinkle
Viscum album, mistletoe
Vitex agnus-castus, chaste tree