How does it feel?
Baical skullcap has the complex taste profile one expects from a remedy with so much depth to its reputation. There is heat, aromatic and resinous qualities as well as the bitterness that gives baical its traditional cooling properties. The aftertaste is predominantly sweet.
All around the world the actions of traditional medicines were understood by their immediate sensory impacts. Click on each of baical’s key qualities below to learn more:
These traditional qualities add to the intriguing complexity of this remedy and to its prospects for helping a wide range of problems. Although not prominent in the traditional reputation of the herb its sweetness helps us to understand its overall supportive role.
What can I use it for?
Baical skullcap is generally used in formulations rather than on its own. The modern practitioner focuses on its role in managing immunological problems, especially involving allergies and hypersensitivity reactions. Conditions in which it might be used include asthma, hayfever, allergic eczema and rhinitis.
Baical is also used in complex protocols in the management of autoimmune and other longterm immunological problems and infections. These include particularly chronic hepatitis and lung diseases. It has a modern reputation in China for the treatment of quite severe bacterial and viral infections.
Baicalin-rich extracts are used topically for skin conditions.
Into the heart of baical skullcap
The indications outlined above are consistent with baical’s traditional reputation in Chinese medicine as cooling excessive ‘heat: modern equivalents of ‘heat’ include inflammation, agitation and wider hyperactivity. However the traditional quality also points towards relieving heat combined with ‘dampness’: ‘damp-heat’ is a traditional descriptor of hepatitis and also mucosal conditions associated with infections and acute inflammations.
Some of the modern applications are to conditions that would have been described as ‘dry heat’, notably the classic hypersensitivity conditions like hayfever and uncomplicated asthma. These are marked by dry mucosa and non-productive cough. In such indications the cooling and drying properties of baical shold be complemented with agents that are moistening and cooling, licorice being the most obvious and common example.
There is nothing new in the apparent contradiction between characteristics and application. Baical was a component of a warming prescription (along with bupleurum, licorice, ginseng, ginger and others) recorded in the great Chinese classic Shanghan Lun (On Cold Damage), written around 200 AD. As is often the case in traditional medicine it is the combination that counts rather than the action of the remedy alone.
The first description of Baical skullcap was recorded as early as the Zhou Dynasty over 3000 years ago. The Han Dynasty Classic of Internal Medicine ‘Shennong Ben Cao Jing’ (the earliest existing traditional Chinese medicine book), recorded its medicinal application as a cure for lung and liver diseases almost 2000 years ago.
Although the root of the plant is most often used there is also a tradition for using the aerial parts in teas for clearing heat and removing dampness, and promoting digestion, typical indications for bitters.
What practitioners say
Baical skullcap is widely used in traditional Chinese medicine for its cardiovascular, hepatic, and renal protective effects. It is commonly used by physicians there to treat potentially serious diseases such as hepatitis, hypertension, acute respiratory infection, acute gastroenteritis, infantile diarrhoea, vomiting during pregnancy and other diseases. It was also used for threatened miscarriage and other problems of pregnancy, and is also used in some cancer therapies.
In modern western herbal practice baical has been most widely used in immunological and hypersensitivity disorders.
- Respiratory: the most common application is for lung and airway symptoms of these disorders, notably asthmatic conditions (especially when associated with secondary bronchitis), hypersensitivity conditions like hayfever and allergic rhinitis, and especially fungal and bacterial infections. It has a reputation in China of being effective also in acute viral infections of the airways. Where there is no infective complication in an allergic or asthmatic condition, baical needs to be combined with licorice or other moistening herbs.
- Nervous system: there is growing interest in the potential role of baical in helping reducing neuroinflammation, the common factor now implicated in dementia, long-term psychiatric and neurological disease, and conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia.
- Metabolism: positive research findings on the role of baical in managing metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance and late-onset diabetes have encouraged practitioners to consider this remedy as these are often co-factors in immunological conditions.
- Liver: baical is traditionally used for hepatitis and its role in supporting liver function is likely to be very important in some of the conditions above.
- Circulation: baical is applied clinically in China for hypertension and other cardiovascular problems, including those of late onset diabetes.
Did you know?
The mandarin name huang qin means ‘golden herb’. It is one of the most prominent of traditional Chinese remedies, having a new lease of life in the modern treatments in China of cancer, complex infections and immune diseases and even in psychiatric and neurological medicine.
There are unlikely to be safety concerns in therapeutic use with adverse effects only rarely reported. It may be wise not to use baical where cholesterol levels are very high and require statin prescriptions.
In traditional Chinese medicine the characteristics of huang qin are
- Cold, bitter.
- Quells Fire, drains Damp Heat.
It is used for high fevers, agitation and thirst, for Lung-Heat cough, perhaps with thick yellow sputum, and for Damp Heat diarrhoea and jaundice.
It is contraindicated in deficient Spleen-Stomach and in full Fire conditions without Damp Heat.
Emerging evidence has established that baicalin improves chronic inflammation, immune imbalance, disturbances in lipid metabolism, apoptosis and oxidative stress. Thereby it offers beneficial roles against the initiation and progression of cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerosis, hypertension, myocardial infarction, and heart failure.
The protective effects of baicalin on liver disease have received research attention. Studies have shown that baicalin protects against several types of liver diseases including viral hepatitis, fatty liver disease, xenobiotic induced liver injury, cholestatic liver injury, and hepatocellular carcinoma, with a variety of pharmacological mechanisms. Baicalin regulates intestinal flora by promoting the production of short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). Furthermore, Baicalin is involved in the interactions of the liver-gut axis by regulating TGR5, FXR, bile acids and the microbiota.
Baical has been used in TCM as a frequent component in prescriptions for depression, anxiety, epilepsy. Modern reviews are supporting the neuroprotective properties of baicalin, with evidence for effects on the production of a variety of relevant inflammatory cytokines.
There are also studies showing the ameliorating effects of baical and its two major bioactive constituents, baicalin and baicalein, on parameters of metabolic syndrome, including antidiabetic, anti-hyperlipidemic, anti-obesity, and antihypertensive activity. Activation and upregulation of AMPK and PPAR-γ as the main signals in the haemostasis of glucose and lipid metabolisms appear to be important mechanisms. Wogonin has also shown laboratory effects in markers of diabetic circulatory complications.
Wogonin has been used as an anti-cancer drug in Chinese medicine practice. It has been found in vitro effectively to tackle cancers cells via several mechanisms.
To see the references used in this summary check our downloadable Expert Herbal Reality Resource pdf
2-6 g per day of the dried root, although lower doses are often used in combination with other herbs.
The most prominent constituents are
- flavones and flavone glycosides incl baicalin (quickly converted in the gut to its aglycone baicalein), and wogonoside (converted to wogonin). Over 40 other flavonoids and their flavonols, dihydroflavones and their dihydroflavonols, chalcones and biflavonoidshave also been identified.
Also detected are
- volatile oils