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Category: Medicines - plant based



Introduction and description


Scutellaria is a genus of flowering plants in the mint family, Lamiaceae. They are known commonly as skullcaps. The generic name is derived from the Latin scutella, meaning "a small dish, tray or platter", or "little dish", referring to the shape of the calyx. The common name alludes to the resemblance of the same structure to "miniature medieval helmets".

The genus has a subcosmopolitan distribution, with species occurring nearly worldwide, mainly in temperate regions.  Most skullcaps are annual or perennial herbaceous plants from 5 to 100 cm (2 to 39 in) tall, but a few are subshrubs; some are aquatic.

Chinese skullcap [Scutellaria baicalensis]  has exceptional anti-viral activity, but a number of skullcaps appear to have healing ability of varying sorts – the observations provide more detail. 



Skullcaps like wettish, sandy and rocky type seashore or creek locatiions in the wild from sea level to 6000 feet in altitude.  Scutellaria baicalensis is native to east Asia - China, Mongolia, Japan, Korea, Siberia and Russia.

It is a perennial growing up to a foot in height and flowers in August, seeds are ready in September.  The plants are haemaphrodites and are pollinated by insects.  It is resistant to drought and cold.

The plants are beautiful, the leaves are a vibrant green, the flowers a delicate purple.

Richo Cech - Horizon herbs
The purple flowers are like schools of dolphins breaking through greenwaves in a summer sea.

Medicinal activity

In medicine it is the root that should be used, thus only the root constituents are shown in the following analyses shown below. 

The American skullcap [Scutellaria lateriflora] and the other skullcaps, may not have the same properties as the Chinese skullcap, we simply don’t know; much of the really detailed research has been done on the Chinese skullcap [Scutellaria baicalensis also called Scutellaria macrantha and in China Huang qin].  Overall, a great deal more research is required into the roots of these plants as a whole, as we are missing vital data.  This is what is known:

  • Chinese skullcap is an Hemagglutinin inhibitor – Some viruses use agglutinin to bind to sialic acid linkages  on airway cell surfaces in the lungs.  An hemaggltinin inhibitor prevents the virus from attaching to the lung epithelial cells.
  • Chinese skullcap is a Neuraminidase inhibitor – Someviruses use an enzyme called Neuraminidase to break apart the sialic linkages on the host cells surface.  A Neuraminidase inhibitor thus prevents the virus from entering the cell wall and thus penetrate the cell.
  • Chinese skullcap is a Viral RNA release inhibitor – If a virus manages to enter a cell, it is usually enveloped in a vacuole.  Cells do this to sequester substances that can damage them, unfortunately a number of viruses are able to exploit this little bolt hole to replicate.  First the virus uses ion channels to create an entry and exit for food and waste, then once the channel is open, the virus disassembles itself and releases viral RNA and core proteins into the cytoplasm of the cell.  The cell is  fooled into making copies of the viral RNA, and the new viral RNA is then assembled to form new viruses.  Eventually the cell bursts [viral budding or shedding] and the virus then starts moving on to more cells.  The cell it has used dies in this process of replication.
    Chinese skullcap is able to inhibit the viral RNA release from the vacuole into the cytoplasm.  And it is one of the few plants able to do this.



Elderberries, liquorice, ginger, Isatis [whose root is made into a medicinal tea commonly called [bǎn lán gēn (Pinyin) (Traditional Chinese 板藍根) (Simplified Chinese 板蓝根)];  Angelica [more particularly Angelica keiskei, commonly known under the Japanese name of Ashitaba (アシタバ or 明日葉 ashitaba, literally "Tomorrow's Leaf")]; and others are known Neuraminidase inhibitors, but they are not RNA release inhibitors.

Many latent viruses, which can be particularly unpleasant when they get going again, use RNA release, as such Skullcap is of great interest from this point of view.

Chemical constituents

According to Dr. Duke's Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Database, the chemicals which are active are as follows.  We have excluded all those for which no activity was reported, if you are interested in these then a search of Dr Duke will yield these as well.

Where the known activity of minerals is described on the site, we have simply provided a link to this entry, hence for example manganese, zinc etc are already described elsewhere.  It is however worth mentioning that this root is rich in minerals:

Chemicals and their Biological Activities in: Scutellaria baicalensis GEORGI (Lamiaceae) -- Baikal Skullcap, Chinese Skullcap, Huang Qin

ARSENIC Root 0.18 ppm;  

BAICALEIN Root:  - 12-Lipoxygenase-Inhibitor; 17-beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase-Inhibitor 9.3 uM; 5-Lipoxygenase-Inhibitor IC50=0.1-5 uM; Aldose-Reductase-Inhibitor IC50=0.98 ppm IC50=0.98 rbt IC62=10 uM; Antiacne; Antiaggregant ED50=120-200 mg/kg; Antiallergic; Antiarthritic IC28=20 mg/kg scu rat; Antiasthmatic; Antiatherosclerotic IC50=3.5-8.6 uM; Antibacterial; Anticolitic 20 mg/kg; Antidermatitic; Antidote (Strychnine) 10 mg mus; Antiedemic IC28=20 mg/kg scu rat; Antiflu; Antigenotoxic IC50=22-34 uM; Antihepatomic; Antihistaminic; AntiHIV; Antiinflammatory IC28=20 mg/kg scu rat IC50=0.1-5 uM; Antileukemic 2 ug/ml IC50=0.26 ug/ml; Antimutagenic; Antiproliferative; Antipyretic; Antiretroviral; Antithrombotic IC50=3.5-8.6 uM IC50=3.7 uM; Antitoxin (Strychnine) 10 mg mus; Antiviral; Apoptotic; Astringent; Choleretic; COX-1-Inhibitor 100 ug/ml; COX-2-Inhibitor; Cyclooxygenase-Inhibitor; Diuretic; Fungicide; HIV-RT-Inhibitor 2 ug/ml IC50=<1 ug/ml; Hypocholesterolemic; Neuroprotective 10 uM; Pesticide; Topoisomerase-II-Inhibitor 200 ug/ml; Triglycerolytic; Xanthine-Oxidase-Inhibitor IC50=3 uM

BAICALIN Root 43,000 ppm;  - Aldose-Reductase-Inhibitor IC42=10 uM IC50=13.6 uM rat; Antiaggregant; Antiallergic; Antianaphylactic; Antiarthritic IC37=10 mg/kg scu rat; Antiasthmatic; Anticholinergic; Antiedemic; Antihepatomic; Antihepatotic 500 mg/man/day; Antihistaminic; AntiHIV; Antiinflammatory IC37=10 mg/kg scu rat; Antilaryngitic; Antinephritic; Antioxidant; Antipelvitic; Antipharyngitic; Antiproliferative; Antipyretic; Antispasmodic; Antithrombotic 0.1-1 mM; Antitonsilitic; Antitumor; Apoptotic; Chemopreventive; Choleretic; Diuretic; Hepatoprotective; Hypocholesterolemic; Hypotensive; Neuroprotective 10 uM; Quinone-Reductase-Inducer; Sedative; Sialidase-Inhibitor; Tranquilizer; Triglycerolytic; Vasodilator; Xanthine-Oxidase-Inhibitor IC50=215 uM

BETA-SITOSTEROL Root: - Androgenic; Angiogenic; Anorexic; Antiadenomic; Antiandrogenic; Antibacterial; Anticancer (Breast); Anticancer (Cervix); Anticancer (Lung); Antiedemic IC54=320 mg/kg orl; Antiestrogenic; Antifeedant; Antifertility; Antigonadotrophic; Antihyperlipoproteinaemic; Antiinflammatory; Antileukemic; Antilymphomic; Antimutagenic 250 ug/ml; Antiophidic 2.3 mg mus; Antioxidant IC44=10 uM; Antiprogestational; Antiprostaglandin 30 mg/day/12 wks; Antiprostatadenomic; Antiprostatitic 10-20 mg 3 x/day/orl man; Antipyretic; Antitumor (Breast); Antitumor (Cervix); Antitumor (Lung); Antiviral; Apoptotic; Artemicide LC50=110 ppm; Cancer-Preventive; Candidicide; Caspase-8-Inducer; Estrogenic; Febrifuge; Gonadotrophic; Hepatoprotective; Hypocholesterolemic 2-6 g/man/day/orl 9-3,330 mg/man/day/orl; Hypoglycemic; Hypolipidemic 2-6 g/day; Pesticide; Spermicide; Ubiquiot; Ulcerogenic 500 mg/kg ipr rat

CALCIUM Root 4,630 - 10,300 ppm  

CAMPESTEROL Root:  - Antioxidant IC37=10 uM; Hypocholesterolemic

CHRYSIN Root: - Antiaflatoxin IC50=2.08 ppm IC50=8.19 uM; Antiaggregant; Antiallergic; Antiangiogenic; Antibacillary; Antibacterial; Anticonvulsant; Antiestrogenic; Antigout; Antiherpetic 40-75 ug/ml; AntiHIV; Antihypertensive; Antileukemic >genistein; AntiMDR; Antimutagenic; Antiproliferant; Antiproliferant (colon); Antisalmonella; Antishigellic; Antispasmodic; Antistaphylococcic; Antistress; Antithrombic; Antitumor (Breast); Antitumor (Colon); Antiviral 40-75 ug/ml; Anxiolytic; Apoptotic; Aromatase-Inhibitor IC80=1 uM/l; Cancer-Preventive; Caspase-3-Inhibitor; Caspase-9-Inhibitor; CNS-Depressant; CYP1A1-Inhibitor; Cytotoxic >genistein; DNA-Protective; Estrogenic; Fungicide 2.5 mM; Hepatoprotective IC50=2.08 ppm IC50=8.19 uM; Hypotensive; Hypouricemic; ICAM-1-Inhibitor; JNK-Inhibitor; MAO-Inhibitor; Mutagenic; Myorelaxant; NO-Genic; Pesticide; Radioprotective; Termitifuge; Testosterogenic; Topoisomerase-I-Inhibitor; Vasodilator; Vasorelaxant; VEGF-Inhibitor; Xanthine-Oxidase-Inhibitor

COPPER Root 13 - 18 ppm  

D-GLUCOSE Root: - Antisecretory

IRON Root 170 - 220 ppm

MAGNESIUM Root 7,170 - 7,220 ppm

MANGANESE Root 18 - 29 ppm

OROXYLIN-A Root: - Aldose-Reductase-Inhibitor IC50=52 uM rat; Antiaggregant; Antimutagenic; Antithrombic

POTASSIUM Root 6,200 - 9,120 ppm

SKULLCAPFLAVONE-II Root: - Aldose-Reductase-Inhibitor 500 uM rat; Antiaggregant; Cytotoxic; Thrombolytic

SODIUM Root 740 - 991 ppm  

STIGMASTEROL Root: - Antihepatotoxic; Antiinflammatory; Antinociceptive; Antiophidic 2.3 mg ipr mus; Antioxidant IC33=10 uM; Antiviral; Artemicide LC50=110 ppm; Cancer-Preventive; Estrogenic; Hypocholesterolemic; Ovulant; Sedative

SUCROSE Root: - Aggregant; Antihiccup 1 tsp; Antiophthalmic; Antioxidant; Atherogenic; Collyrium; Demulcent; Flatugenic; Hypercholesterolemic; Preservative; Sweetener 1 x sucrose; Triglycerigenic; Uricogenic; Vulnerary

WOGONIN Root 5,000 ppm; - Aldose-Reductase-Inhibitor IC13=10uM IC50=48 uM rat; Antiaggregant; Antibacterial; Antifertility 10 mg/kg/day; Antiimplantation; Antiinflammatory IC50=75; Antileukemic IC50=0.160 ug/ml; Antioxidant; Antithrombic; Diuretic; Estrogenic 10 mg/kg/day; Lipolytic; Pesticide; Sialidase-Inhibitor; Triglycerolytic

WOGONIN-7-O-GLUCURONIDE Root: - Aldose-Reductase-Inhibitor IC50=40 uM rat

ZINC Root 17 - 18 ppm

We have excluded all the references for these activities, but they can all be viewed on Dr Duke.

Quite a number of the constituents are classified as Aldose reductase inhibitors.  They are a group of chemicals currently under study as a way to prevent eye and nerve damage in people with diabetes.

Roots versus leaves or plant


If we compare the American skullcap and look at the plant as a whole [often used in the USA], you will see that it has none of the activities of the Chinese skullcap root.  It is rich in minerals and vitamins, but it has none of the essential chemicals to combat viruses, although all vitamins and minerals are in some senses antiviral and antibacterial because they boost the immune system

Dr Duke’s analysis of Scutellaria lateriflora L. (Lamiaceae) -- Mad-Dog Skullcap, Scullcap

ALUMINUM Plant 258 ppm;
ASCORBIC-ACID Plant 1,025 ppm;
BETA-CAROTENE Plant 18 - 19 ppm
CALCIUM Plant 4,550 ppm;
CHROMIUM Plant 7 ppm;
COBALT Plant 11 ppm;
IRON Plant 250 ppm;
MAGNESIUM Plant 1,130 ppm;
MANGANESE Plant 47 ppm;
NIACIN Plant 35 ppm;
PHOSPHORUS Plant 1,810 ppm;
POTASSIUM Plant 21,800 ppm;
RIBOFLAVIN Plant 2.2 ppm;
SELENIUM Plant 8.3 ppm;
SILICON Plant 48 ppm;
SODIUM Plant 160 ppm;
THIAMIN Plant 2.8 ppm;
TIN Plant 1.2 ppm;
ZINC Plant 86 ppm;

In North America, Scutellaria lateriflora was used in Native American medicine to treat different illnesses to those used in Chinese medicine.

So be careful here.  Not all skullcap sold as a tincture is necessarily skullcap!  You need to know not only which plant, but also which part of the plant has been used.

Given that Scutellaria has become widely available as a commercial product in US herbalism and it can be expensive - the plant reportedly demands prices of $16 to $64 per pound dry weight – this point is very important.



This plant and its root is an exceptionally important medicine.  Furthermore, it is very clear that the root as a whole needs to be used and it needs to be fresh – as in not old and stale.  In the olden days, the root was dried and powdered because that was the only technology available to preserve the root and enable it to be distributed.  But one of the disadvantages of this is that powder is very difficult to ingest and easily becomes stale.  Furthermore the very act of drying could result in a loss of compounds.

It would seem to us that this is one plant where the pharmaceutical company’s ability to correctly assess the chemical constituents of each batch for safety is fairly key, as often large doses are needed to combat the more virulent viruses.  Furthermore the medicine might be better frozen in ‘doses’ rather than distributed in bottles.

This is something for the future.

Drug interactions


Chinese skullcap works well with liquorice, elderberry, ginger and rowan berry

But the effect of interactions with pharmaceuticals is unpredictable to say the least.  It may affect blood pressure treatments, diabetic treatments, numerous drugs.

Stephen Harrod Buhner – Herbal antivirals
S. baicalensis is strongly inhibitive of CYP3A4, a member of the cytochrome oxidase system.  And this inhibition is dose dependent; the more you take, the more it is inhibited.  CYP3A4 is a type of enzyme, present in the liver and is responsible for catalysing reactions involved in drug metabolism.  Many of the pharmaceuticals that are ingested are metabolised by the CYP3A4 system, meaning that some portion of the drug is inactivated, usually by being altered to another molecular form.  With pharmaceuticals, the normal dosage range you are given is adjusted to take this metabolisation into account.  If you are using Chinese skullcap, then less of the pharmaceutical is going to be metabolised.  In some cases this will make the impact of the drug stronger, with the bioavailable dose higher.  With other drugs it is the metabolites created by CYP3A4 that are active in the body.  In this circumstance, since the herb inhibits CYP3A4, the metabolites of the pharmaceutical you are taking will be reduced in degree and have less effect on the body.  Acetaminophen, codeine, cyclosporine, diazepam, erythromycin and so on are all affected in one way or another.  The herb does affect the amount of antibiotics that enter the system.
To make things more complicated, one of the herb’s constituents – Oroxylin-A – is a strong P-glycoprotein inhibitor.  P-glycoprotein is strongly present in the blood brain barrier, the lining of the GI tract, renal tubular cells, capillary endothelial cells and the blood-testes barrier.
It reduces the amount of substances that cross over those barriers in order to protect what is on the other side.  P-glycoprotein inhibitors allow more of a substance to cross barriers that are high in P-glycoprotein.  That means that if you are taking skullcap, any substance taken with it will end up in higher levels in the bloodstream.
This means that Chinese skullcap will act through two different mechanisms to increase drug and herb uptake in the body.

Also, because cancer cells use P-glycoprotein as a form of efflux pump in order to eject drugs designed to kill them, Chinese skullcap will increase the effectiveness of anti cancer medication.

So the message seems to be don’t take this with any food or drink, except water.  Fast before taking it and if you are on pharmaceuticals that must be taken regularly, Skullcap may be best avoided.



Relatively easy to start from seed in the spring, the plants prefer a full sun position and deep, dry, well-drained soils.  Space plants about 12 inches apart.   The flowers appear for the first time in the Autumn of the first year, and after that the plant flowers copiously every summer, producing heady blue or purple blooms for as long as three months before the blossoms give way to the characteristically hooded seed capsules.  Baical. skullcap is a low-lying bedding plant, excellent for high-use areas such as next to pathways. 

After the third year of growth, the roots may be dug and dried for medicinal use. No fancy processing is necessary.  The roots can be sliced into sections while fresh and dried in the shade, then made into tincture or tea.  Good quality roots are bright yellow, not green or black. 

The seed they produce becomes increasingly viable the older they get.


Related observations