How to Plant & Grow Common Skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata)

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common skullcap scutellaria galericulata growing in the sun
Like other members of the mint family, common skullcap has a square, rather than round, stem. Photo by Algirdas at the Lithuanian language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Scutellaria galericulata is commonly known by several names, including common skullcap, marsh skullcap, and hooded skullcap. This plant is a flowering perennial herb in the mint family (Lamiaceae), all members of which are distinguished by their unique, conspicuously square stems.

This wetland-loving plant can be found all over the Northern Hemisphere, including Europe, Asia, and much of Canada. It can also be found throughout the majority of the US, with the exception of some southern and south-eastern states.

The unique shape of common skullcap’s blooms is referenced by its Latin name: “galericulata” means “hooded,” which refers to the way the top of the flower curls inward, and gave rise to the name “skullcap” as it somewhat resembles the way a hat or hood would cover one’s head. Common skullcap flowers are blue to violet, and its leaves are thin and slightly serrated.

Facts, Benefits & Uses of Common Skullcap

a karner blue butterfly on a wild lupine leaf
Skullcaps provide a valuable nectar source for the critically endangered Karner blue butterfly. Photo by Joel Trick, USFWS Midwest Region

Common skullcap produces beautiful flowers from June to September. This species can be a beautiful addition to a wetland or pond garden in its native ranges in the Northern Hemisphere. Common skullcap flowers are often pollinated by bees but can attract other pollinators as well.

Notably, skullcap plants are the only food source for the skullcap leaf beetle (Phyllobrotica quadrimaculata) a small, tan-orange insect with black markings. These beetles do very minimal damage to plants, and provide a valuable food source for birds. The critically endangered Karner blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samueilis) has also been known to visit common skullcap plants for nectar.

Plants in the Scutellaria genus have a long history of medicinal uses. Scutellaria galericulata itself is not necessarily the species of choice for medicinal skullcap remedies, but it can act as a substitute in the absence of more traditional varieties. In general, if “skullcap” is referenced in North American traditional medicine, it is a reference to blue/American skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora). Skullcap species, including common skullcap, can be used in an attempt to aid with anxiety and act as a sedative. This plant has also been used for a wide variety of other ailments.

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Common Skullcap Fact Sheet:
Herbaceous Perennial
USDA 4 – 8
Full sun to partial shade
Blue, violet
June – September (Summer)
Height 30-66 cm (12-26 in.)
Place seeds ¼ inch below soil surface
pH 6.0 – 7.5

Common Skullcap Growth, Hardiness & Climate

common skullcap scutellaria galericulata growing by water
Marsh skullcap, as it’s also known, typically grows to 2 feet or less in height. Photo by Stefan.lefnaer, CC BY-SA 4.0

Common skullcap grows fairly quickly, typically reaching a maximum height of 12-26 inches. As a member of the mint family, this plant can spread easily, but is not considered to be an aggressive, invasive plant as it does not outcompete or crowd out other native plants.

Common skullcap is quite hardy and grows easily without intervention. One important thing to keep in mind is that this plant requires a large amount of water in order to thrive. As one of its alternative names (marsh skullcap) suggests, this plant does best in a wetland environment, or on the margins of a pond. Common skullcap is a perennial and can survive winters in USDA hardiness zones 4-8. Blooming typically occurs from June through September, and this plant’s blue and violet blooms are a beautiful ornamental addition to gardens that will have the added bonus of attracting butterflies.

How to Plant Common Skullcap In Ponds

common skullcap growing in damp soil with moss
Common skullcap grows best in damp soil, but can tolerate very shallow water as well. Andreas Rockstein / CC BY-SA 2.0

Common skullcap seeds benefit from cold stratification in order to germinate properly, meaning that they require a period of cold weather in order to emerge from dormancy. Snow, ice, and freezing soil press and shift against the seeds, scratching them and helping to promote growth from these weak points once the soil thaws. To plant, gently press seeds just under the surface of the soil in autumn. There is no need to water the seeds yet, as they will not germinate until spring arrives. However, be sure to keep the soil moist once your seeds sprout.

If growing common skullcap from an already established plant, simply bury the roots up to the crown of the stem in rich soil. This plant does best in moist soils and can even tolerate very shallow standing water, but likely to die if allowed to dry out.

How to Care For Common Skullcap

scutellaria galericulata with many purple flowers
Plant skullcaps in a location with ample sun, and they’ll produce ample flowers! Andreas Rockstein / CC BY-SA 2.0

Common skullcap can grow when exposed to a range of light levels, from full sun to partial shade.  You will get the most flowers out of your plant if it has the benefits of full sun and very moist soil. Common skullcap is relatively low maintenance and requires very little special care from a gardener, so long as it is planted in a location with adequate water.

How to Winter Common Skullcap

Common skullcap is native to northern areas with cold winters, and as a result is able to survive cold weather without much difficulty. In fact, it is important that this plant is grown in areas with cold winters because its seeds rely on cold stratification to sprout in the spring. There is no need for any special treatment to prepare common skullcap for winter when grown in its native hardiness zones.

If growing outside of common skullcap native hardiness zones, please consider whether this plant could be invasive in your area. If you don’t experience freezing winters, planting common skullcap seeds in a pot and then placing this in a fridge or freezer for a couple to several months may work to simulate the cold stratification that these plants rely on to sprout.

Is Common Skullcap Toxic, Poisonous or Invasive?

Common skullcap has a wide native range in the Northern Hemisphere, including Europe, Asia, Canada, and parts of the United states. As a member of the mint family, common skullcap can be an enthusiastic spreader when given the proper conditions to make it happy. As such, although it may not technically be invasive in your area, you may want to keep an eye on this plant to make sure it doesn’t take over too much of your garden. If it does start to spread further than you’d prefer, the roots are not aggressive and skullcap can easily be dug up and removed if desired.

The extent to which common skullcap is toxic is not well known. It is thought to show some levels of liver toxicity, so care should be taken when consuming this plant. Even so, common skullcap has been used throughout history and to this day as a medicinal herb.

Is Common Skullcap Edible? Will Fish Eat it?

The young leaves of common skullcap are thought to be edible, at least in small quantities. However, this plant is not said to be very palatable, though skullcap has had a traditional role as an important medicinal herb, especially as a sedative. There is no evidence that pond fish will try to eat common skullcap, but they should not come to any harm if they do happen to taste it.

Where to Buy Common Skullcap & Seeds? (UK & US)

Common skullcap is easily obtained from plant nurseries in its native ranges in the Northern Hemisphere, both in person and online. Elsewhere, you may have to order it online if you are set on having it in your garden. As always, try to plant native species in your pond or garden whenever possible.

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