Chinese skullcap is a medicinal herb that has been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years.
In this article, we will discuss the many health benefits of Chinese skullcap, as well as its safety and traditional uses.
Table of Contents
What is Chinese Skullcap?
Chinese skullcap is a medicinal flowering plant that is native to several Asian countries, including China. The root of the plant is one of the 50 fundamental herbs used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and it is officially listed in the Chinese Pharmacopoeia.
The plant’s Latin name is Scutellaria baicalensis, while its common names are Huang Qin, Chinese skullcap, baical skullcap, scute, and Scutellariae Radix.
Chinese skullcap is not to be confused with American skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora). Although these two forms of skullcap share similar constituents (plant compounds), they are different plants with differing health benefits.
The major bioactive constituents in Chinese skullcap include.
- Oroxylin A
Chinese skullcap is commonly used for treating Lyme disease. It’s also a popular herb in various TCM herbal formulas. In addition, it has been used for antimicrobial purposes, in cancer research, and for cognitive and liver health.
Health Benefits of Chinese Skullcap:
Below are the top research-backed health benefits of Chinese skullcap and its constituents.
1. May Treat Lyme Disease
The most common vector-borne disease in the United States is Lyme disease. It is caused by the bacteria, Borrelia burgdorfer, which is transmitted by tick bites.
Chinese skullcap is thought to help treat individuals with Lyme disease.
A lab-based study researched several herbs, including Chinese skullcap, Cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa), Polygonum cuspidatum (Japanese knotweed), Artemisia annua (Sweet wormwood), Cryptolepis sanguinolenta, Juglans nigra (Black walnut), and Cistus incanus on their effectiveness against Lyme disease. It was shown that with Chinese skullcap’s antimicrobial activity, it has a strong ability to stop the growth of Borrelia burgdorferi.
Another lab study evaluated several micronutrients and plant compounds, including baicalein, one of the main constituents of Chinese skullcap, against Borrelia burgdeorferi and Borrelia garinii (another bacteria connected to Lyme disease). Findings showed that baicalein was one of the most effective antimicrobials against Borrelia spp.
Summary:Research indicates that Chinese skullcap may be one of the best herbs for treating Lyme disease. Human clinical research is needed for confirmation.
2. Antimicrobial Properties
Periodontal disease is a gum infection that impacts the gums and bones surrounding the teeth. It is a serious condition that can lead to tooth loss and other complications.
A review of 28 studies looked at the impact of baicalin on periodontal health. Baicalin was shown to alleviate periodontal disease in several aspects. It acted as an antibacterial, a protective agent on periodontal tissues, a regulator of the innate immune system, and a regulator of the expression of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), which are enzymes important for collagen and periodontal issue development.
A lab study examined baicalin’s effects on the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa. This bacteria forms biofilms on damaged tissue and makes up more than 80% of all microbial infections. This study revealed that baicalin can effectively halt Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilm formation and increase the antibacterial effects of antibiotics.
A total of 46 medicinal herbs and dietary spices, including Chinese skullcap, were explored for their antibacterial effects in a lab-based study. The plants were examined against five different types of foodborne bacteria. Chinese skullcap was shown to have a major antibacterial effect against each of these types of bacteria.
Another lab study examined eight Traditional Chinese Medicine herbs, including skullcap, for their effect on Staphylococcus aureus. Reports indicated that skullcap boosted the antimicrobial effect of antibiotics (i.e. ceftriaxone, ciprofloxacin, gentamicin, and penicillin G) against the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus.
Not only has Chinese skullcap shown antibacterial activity, but also antiviral activity, particularly its constituent, baicalin. Studies have reported that baicalin can inhibit the replication of HIV-1 cells.
Summary:A major constituent of Chinese skullcap, baicalin, shows evidence of being useful for inhibiting bacterial growth.
3. Anti-Inflammatory Properties
Chinese skullcap is widely known for its anti-inflammatory properties.
An animal study demonstrated that Chinese skullcap has strong inflammatory effects by reducing the expression of inflammatory cytokines.
A lab-based study looked at the anti-allergic effects of Chinese skullcap on inflammation. Chinese skullcap showed anti-inflammatory activity by significantly reducing histamine release and reducing the expression of inflammatory cytokines.
Summary:Research shows that Chinese skullcap may have anti-inflammatory effects. Human clinical studies are required in order to confirm this finding.
4. May Relieve Migraines
Migraine is considered an inflammatory brain disorder associated with nausea/vomiting, as well as sensitivities to light, sound, and smell.
An animal study investigated the effectiveness of Chinese skullcap on migraines. Results showed that Chinese skullcap relieved migraines. In addition, cutaneous allodynia, a common symptom in migraines, was tested. Results showed that those treated with Chinese skullcap had fewer symptoms.
Summary:Animal research has found that Chinese skullcap may work to alleviate migraines and lessen their symptoms. Human trials are needed for verification.
5. Neuroprotective Properties
Reduced blood flow to the brain is a common symptom in many neurocognitive disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
An animal study examined how baicalein may have brain-protecting effects. Results showed that baicalein can help improve motor function, inhibit mitochondrial swelling, and decrease oxidative stress within the brain.
Summary:Chinese skullcap may be beneficial for brain health. Human clinical research is required to confirm this finding.
6. Anti-Cancer Properties
Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide. Along with conventional medicine such as chemotherapy, many natural herbs have been suggested to be used for cancer treatment.
Studies have shown that Chinese skullcap and its constituents may have promising anti-cancer effects.
Lab studies show that Chinese skullcap can selectively and significantly halt the growth of cancerous cells and tumor mass production. In addition, several studies have indicated that Chinese skullcap and its constituents can kill cancer cells (a process called ‘apoptosis’).
A lab study looked at the effects of Chinese skullcap on leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma. Results found that Chinese skullcap can inhibit the growth of cancerous cells. In particular, baicalin was shown to be a potential anti-cancer agent.
Summary:Research indicates that Chinese skullcap may be useful in reducing cancer cell growth, however, human clinical studies are needed to confirm this finding.
Chinese Skullcap Safety:
Safety Class: 1
Interaction Class: B
The Botanical Safety Handbook puts Chinese skullcap in the safety class of “1”, indicating that this herb can be safely consumed when used appropriately.
It has an interaction class of ‘B’ which suggests that clinically relevant adverse reactions could theoretically occur. Side effects may include stomach discomfort and diarrhea.
Chinese skullcap may interact with pharmaceutical drugs by increasing their bioavailability.
Pregnancy & Lactation:
It is not recommended to use Chinese skullcap during pregnancy.
Although, in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Chinese skullcap is commonly used during pregnancy.
The safety of Chinese skullcap during lactation has not been established.
The following dosages are reported by Lyme disease expert and author, Stephen Harrod Buhner:
- Tincture (1:5; 50% alcohol): ¼-½ tsp. three times per day.
- For acute conditions, dosage may be doubled.
- Dried herb: 3-9 grams per serving (TCM large dose).
- For capsule form, divide into 3 equal doses every 4 hours or so.
Chinese skullcap is not on the United Plant Saver’s “species-at-risk” list of plants that are sensitive to the impact of human activities.
Naming & Taxonomy:
Chinese skullcap’s scientific name is Scutellaria baicalensis. It belongs to the Lamiaceae (i.e. mint) family of plants.
This perennial plant has violet-blue, tube-shaped flowers with two lips, which are produced through the summer and fall. The root of the plant is the part used medicinally.
Huang Qin is the plant’s Chinese name. Huang means ‘yellow’ and Qin is equivalent to Jin, which means ‘golden herb’. The root of the plant is yellow, hence its name “the golden herb”.
History & Traditional Use:
For thousands of years, Chinese skullcap has been used to treat various conditions.
Huang Qin was first recorded in the Shennong Bencaojing book (The Classic of Herbal Medicine) in 200 AD. It was said to be used to treat bitter, cold, lung, and liver conditions.
In 1593, Chinese skullcap was published in Bencao Gangmu (Compendium of Materia Medica), the most authoritative book on Traditional Chinese Medicine. It was used to treat diarrhea, dysentery, hemorrhaging, hypertension, insomnia, inflammation, and respiratory infections.
Chinese skullcap is a safe medicinal herb with a long historical use in Traditional Chinese Medicinal.
If you are considering taking Chinese skullcap for the treatment of Lyme disease or another condition, it is highly recommended to consult with a licensed health practitioner for approval and recommended dosage use.
Buhner, S. H. (2015). Healing Lyme: Natural healing of Lyme borreliosis and the coinfections chlamydia and spotted fever rickettsioses (2nd edition). Raven Press: Boulder, CO.
Gardner, Z. & McGuffin, M. (2013). Botanical safety handbook (2nd ed.). American Herbal Products Association.
Zaho, Q., Chen, X. Y., & Martin, C. (2016). Scutellaria baicalensis, the golden herb from the garden of Chinese medicinal plants. Science Bulletin, 61 (18), 1391-1398. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5031759/