Scutellaria baicalensis, also known as Baical skullcap root or Huang Qin in Chinese name, is one of the 50 fundamental herbs of TCM (traditional Chinese medicine). If you know something about this oldest medical system in the world, you’ve no doubt heard of the famous Xiao Chai Hu Tang (Minor Bupleurum Decoction), in which scullcap is one of the key ingredients. As a matter of fact, Chai Hu (Bupleurum) and scullcap are a perfect match occurred in many other herbal formulas. The medical uses of this herb range from common cold to gynecology and obstetrics diseases. And Zhu Danxi, a famous physician in the Yuan Dynasty (1281 – 1358), ever called it as “tocolysis panacea.” Medicinally it comes from both the wild and cultivation. According to the statistics, the annual sales of it reach nearly ten thousand tons, which makes it one of the 40 bulk herbs these years.
What is scutellaria baicalensis?
Medicinally it mainly refers to the dry root of Scutellaria baicalensis Georgi, a plant in the mint family Lamiaceae. Sometimes Huang Qian also means the root of other plants in the same family, including Scutellaria amoena G.H.Wright, Scutellaria viscidula Bunge., and Scutellaria likiangensis Diels. But please don’t mistake it for Scutellaria lateriflora that is native to North America and commonly known as mad dog skullcap and blue skullcap. And other names of it include Chinese Skullcap, Baical skullcap root, Radix Scutellariae, Skullcap ‘Oriental Blue’, skullcap baikal, Radix Scutellariae Baicalensis, and more. In China it is mainly produced in Hebei, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, Henan, Shaanxi and other places. Usually it is harvested during spring and autumn. After that, remove fibrous roots and dirt, dry in the sun, remove raw bark, steam thoroughly or moisten thoroughly with boiling water, slice with knife, and dry once again, used raw, wine processed, or charred.
This is a perennial herb. Basal part of stem is prostrate on the ground and then rises to 15 to 120cm. Taproot is stout, slightly conical, and tan. Leaves are opposite, with short handle, lanceolate blade, and entire margin. Racemes are terminal. Labiate flowers are dark brown, partial to one side of the inflorescence and surrounded in sepal. Nutlets are 4, nearly round, and black. The flowering period is from July to August and the fruiting period is from August to September. Main habitats are grasslands and high dry gravelly slopes.
Main chemical constituents are baicalein, baicalin, wogonin, wogonoside, neobaicalein, acetophenone, palmitic acid, oleic acid, proline, benzoic acid, radix scutellariae enzyme, and β-sitosterol and so on.
Scutellaria baicalensis benefits
The clinical application of skullcap has more than 2,000 years of history. Today it is still an essential herb for clearing heat, drying dampness, and purging fire for removing toxin. Besides of herbal formulas, it is largely used as raw material in making Chinese patent medicine. In line with the first part of “National Catalog of Chinese Patent drugs”, there are 45 in 66 honeyed pills, 46 in 64 tablets, and 25 in 36 watered pills containing the ingredient of scutellaria baicalensis. In addition, in many places this herb is the pharmaceutical source of extracted baicalein and baicalin. Now it is made into scutellaria baicalensis extract, capsules, tincture, tablets, supplements, etc. It provides help on diseases like anxiety, rheumatoid arthritis, prostate cancer, mild depression, hepatitis, and so on. But its health benefits don’t end medicinally, it is also widely used in the industry of skin care and cosmetics thanks to its antioxidant properties. And more can be found from its pharmacology description.
Modern pharmacological actions of Chinese skullcap
1. Its decoction in vitro has various degrees of inhibition on Shigella, Corynebacterium diphtheriae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Salmonella typhi, paratyphoid bacillus, Proteus, Staphylococcus aureus, hemolytic streptococcus, pneumococcus, meningococcus, Vibrio cholerae, etc.;
2. Its baicalin and baicalein provide relief on both allergic contractions on isolated guinea pig tracheal and allergic asthma on overall animal. In addition, it has synergistic effect with ephedrine, which can reduce capillary permeability in mouse ear;
3. It also reduces fever, lowers blood pressure, calms down, protects liver, benefits gallbladder, inhibits intestinal motility, lowers lipid, resists oxidation, regulates cAMP levels, and fights tumors;
4. Its aqueous extract showed inhibition on the synthesis of prostaglandin biosynthesis.
Selected baical skullcap herbal remedies
In the medical book of the Chinese Materia Medica, it is bitter in flavor and cold in properties and goes to 5 meridians of lung, heart, liver, gall, and large intestine. Basic functions include clearing heat-fire, eliminating dampness and detoxification, stopping bleeding, and miscarriage prevention. Key scutellaria baicalensis uses and indications are lung-heat cough, coma due to hyperpyrexia, liver-fire headache, painful red swollen eyes, damp-heat jaundice, dysentery, heat stranguria, vomiting blood and nosebleed, metrorrhagia and metrostaxis, threatened abortion due to fetal heat, and boils and carbuncles. Recommended scutellaria baicalensis dosage is from 3 to 9 grams in decoction, teapills, or powder.
1. Qing Jin Wan. From Dan Xi Xin Fa (Dan Xi’s Experiential Methods), this formula uses it alone for the treatment of coughing up thick phlegm cause by the obstruction of lung heat.
2. Ban Xia Xie Xin Tang. From Shang Han Lun (On Cold Damage), this prescription is used for distention, fullness, and vomiting due to damp-heat stagnated in middle warmer. Other main herbal ingredients are Huang Lian (Coptis), Gan Jiang (Dried Ginger), Ban Xia (Pinellia), etc.
3. Da Huang Tang. From Sheng Ji Zong Lu (Complete Record of Holy Benevolence), this recipe is basically designed for hematemesis and nosebleed because of flaming-fire inducing the hyperactivity of blood. The other herb is Da Huang (Rhubarb).
4. Huang Lian Jie Du Tang. From Wai Tai Mi Yao (The Secret Medical Essentials of a Provincial Governor), it is primarily made for boils and carbuncles caused by intense fire. Other herbs are Coptis, Huang Bai (Amur Cork Tree Bark), Zhi Zi (Gardenia), and more.
5. Bao Yin Jian. From Jing Yue Quan Shu (Jingyue’s Complete Works), it is usually used to treat blood heat induced irritable uterus. Other major herbs are Sheng Di Huang (Rehmannia), Huang Bai (Phellodendron), and so on.
Scutellaria baicalensis side effects and contraindications
Since it is often consumed to cure ailments, the safety and toxicity of scutellaria baicalensis need the most attention. But don’t worry, this herb is safe enough to be eaten as long as used properly. That is the reason why the AHPA rated it with a class 1. TCM wise, because of its bitter nature it shouldn’t be used in the case of deficiency-cold in spleen and stomach.