Chinese Skullcap

Common name: Chinese skullcap
Other names: Baikal skullcap, Huang-qin
Latin name: Scutellaria baicalensis
Affinity: Immune system, nervous system, circulatory system
Actions: Immunomodulator, nervine
Diseases: Autoimmune diseases(3), high blood pressure(3), insomnia(3), osteoarthritis(2)
Parts used: Root

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Characteristics: Chinese skullcap is a member of the mint family and it grows mainly in China alongside roads, in fields, and in high dry sandy soils (Awad et al., 2003; Kovács et al., 2004). It also grows in Eastern Russia.

History: Chinese skullcap has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for approximately 2000 years (Foster, 1992) and is one of their 50 fundamental herbs (Awad et al., 2003). Its traditional usage is diverse including swelling and pain (autoimmune problems), high blood pressure, hepatitis and insomnia. It was first described in the West by a German botanist called Johann Gottlieb Georgi (1729 – 1802), a professor of Science in St. Petersburg. The species was a rare specimen in European botanical gardens in the 20th century.

Current applications: Chinese skullcap is useful in allergies such as allergic hives, allergic asthma, and allergic rhinitis (Kuhn and Winston, 2000). It is applied together with other immunomodulators such as reishi, maitake, or licorice for autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and scleroderma. It is used alongside milk thistle, turmeric, and schisandra to treat chronic hepatitis. It may be useful alongside other antibacterial agents to treat infections such as bacterial diarrhea, dysentery, bronchitis, pneumonia, and prostatitis. It may reduce blood pressure in mind cases of hypertension.

Science: Chinese skullcap has been better studied than its American counterpart, largely due to a greater interest in China in herbal medicine. Experiments in vivo or ex vivo models demonstrated anti-oxidant activity (Gao et al., 1999), anti-tumour activity (Zhang et al., 2003), and anti-inflammatory activity (Huang et al., 2006). One Chinese skullcap study at least has been published in higher impact Western journal (Zhang et al., 2003). In terms of human clinical trials, one study with a reasonable patient size (N = 79) found Chinese skullcap blended with one other herb to be as effective as naproxen in reducing knee osteoarthritis.

Safety: Chinese skullcap is safe for most, however, avoid use in pregnant and breast feeding women.

Some isolated reports have surfaced of hepatitis in the U.S.A. blamed on Chinese skullcap contained in the formula called ‘move free arthritis’ (Dhanasekaran et al., 2013). No deaths occurred, this may have in fact been due to contamination in the imported skullcap and other ingredients. If observing serious side effects, stop taking immediately and inform a physician.

Dosage: 3-9g dried and in pills.

Brands: In the U.K., I recommend Bristol Botanicals.

Scientific Summary

Biological affects

Anti-oxidant activity: A study demonstrated 4 flavonoids, namely, baicalein, baicalin, wogonin and wogonoside showed anti-oxidant activity in vitro and in vivo models (Gao et al., 1999).

Anti-tumour activity: A study compared the inhibition of tumour growth in vivo and ex vivo of Scutellaria baicalensis and an extracted flavonoid from the plant called baicalein, baicalein did not reduce tumour growth in vivo while the whole leaf extract did (Zhang et al., 2003). The authors concluded synergistic effects among the various compounds in the leaf extract may be responsible for its unique behaviour compared with the purified flavonoid.

Anti-inflammatory activity: Flavonoids from Chinese skullcap have been found to exhibit anti-inflammatory properties (Huang et al., 2006) in vivo and ex vivo models.

Research on humans

Knee osteoarthritis: One study (n = 79, randomised placebo controlled) used a propriety blend of S. baicalensis and A. catechu called UP446 and found it comparable to Naproxen in terms of reliving knee inflammation (Arjmandi et al., 2014). In terms of knee motion the herbal blend was in fact more effective.

References:

Arjmandi, Bahram H., et al. “A combination of Scutellaria baicalensis and Acacia catechu extracts for short-term symptomatic relief of joint discomfort associated with osteoarthritis of the knee.” Journal of medicinal food 17.6 (2014): 707-713.

Dhanasekaran, Renumathy, Victoria Owens, and William Sanchez. “Chinese skullcap in move free arthritis supplement causes drug induced liver injury and pulmonary infiltrates.” Case reports in hepatology 2013 (2013).

Foster, Steven, and Yue Chongxi. Herbal emissaries: bringing Chinese herbs to the West: a guide to gardening, herbal wisdom, and well-being. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co, 1992.

Gao, Zhonghong, et al. “Free radical scavenging and antioxidant activities of flavonoids extracted from the radix of Scutellaria baicalensis Georgi.” Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA)-General Subjects 1472.3 (1999): 643-650.

Huang, Wen-Hsin, An-Rong Lee, and Ching-Huey Yang. “Antioxidative and anti-inflammatory activities of polyhydroxyflavonoids of Scutellaria baicalensis GEORGI.” Bioscience, biotechnology, and biochemistry 70.10 (2006): 2371-2380.

Kovács, Gy, et al. “HPLC determination of flavonoids in hairy-root cultures of Scutellaria baicalensis Georgi.” Chromatographia 60 (2004): S81-S85.

Kuhn, Merrily A., and David Winston. Herbal therapy and supplements: a scientific and traditional approach. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2000.

Zhang, David Y., et al. “Inhibition of cancer cell proliferation and prostaglandin E2 synthesis by Scutellaria baicalensis.” Cancer Research 63.14 (2003): 4037-4043.