Chinese Skullcap: Its History, Health Benefits, Uses, and Side Effects

Published on May 01, 2023

By Lisa Stockwell

Lisa Stockwell

Lisa Stockwell has worked as a copywriter, writer, author, and editor for 35 years, specializing in the field of healthcare since 2009. She recognized the need for reliable health information while supporting friends through unique health challenges and refocused her career to bring clarity and compassion to healthcare communications. Lisa is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and a lifelong Northern Californian.

If you’re looking to harness nature's healing force, get to know Chinese Skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis), one of the 50 fundamental herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine.REF#1505 This ancient herb has a long history of being used to help strengthen the body’s natural defenses against disease and infection. 

For over 2,000 years, the root of the Chinese Skullcap plant has been prepared as a traditional Chinese medicine treatment for infections. In more recent years, medical scientists in the West have been studying the active compounds in Chinese Skullcap root for their potential health benefits. 

Let’s take a closer look at Chinese Skullcap, how it got its name, what the science tells us, and how to use it to strengthen your immune system. 

About Chinese Skullcap

Chinese Skullcap is an herbaceous perennial plant native to China and several East Asian and Russian Federation countries. It is a member of the Lamiaceae (mint) family, with an abundance of small purple blossoms that roughly resemble medieval helmets (skullcaps). The plant’s exceptional nutrients are found in its roots.

Chinese Skullcap is not to be confused with American Skullcap, which has its own long history of use in Western herbalism, but offers different health benefits.

Preparations from the root of the Chinese Skullcap plant were called Huang-Qin in China and were first recorded in about 200 to 250 AD in the Shennong Bencaoging (The Classic of Herbal Medicine). At that time, Chinese Skullcap was recommended for the treatment of bitter cold, lung, and liver problems.REF#1506 Additional usages were reported in the Bencao Gangmu (Compendium of Materia Medica), first published in 1593, including treating diarrhea, dysentery, hypertension, hemorrhaging, insomnia, inflammation, and respiratory infections. 

Traditional Uses of Chinese Skullcap

According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), Chinese Skullcap has a cooling effect on the body and can be used to treat conditions believed in TCM to be caused by excess heat or inflammation in the body. It is still used today often in combination with other herbs in TCM for several conditions:

  • Respiratory infections: Chinese Skullcap has long been used to treat respiratory infections, including bronchitis, pneumonia, and the common cold. TCM practitioners believe it has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties that can help to reduce inflammation in the respiratory tract and fight off infections.*
  • Liver disease: Chinese Skullcap is believed by TCM practitioners to have hepatoprotective properties, protecting the liver from damage caused by toxins or infections. It is often used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat liver disease, including hepatitis and cirrhosis.*
  • Cancer: In traditional Chinese medicine, Chinese Skullcap is often used to treat various types of cancer, including breast, lung, and liver cancer.*

Most of these uses have not been confirmed by modern scientific research. However, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that Chinese Skullcap may be safe and effective in supporting a healthy immune system.

Health Benefits of Chinese Skullcap Currently Being Studied

While there are limited human clinical studies on Chinese Skullcap, lab studies have confirmed the presence of bioactive constituents that may play a role in the herb’s ability to support the immune system and protect against disease.

We know that Chinese Skullcap contains a range of flavonoids, including baicalin, baicalein, wogonoside, wogonin, and Oroxylin-A-7-O-glucuronide, which have strong antioxidant effects to help protect cells from free radical damage. These flavonoids may also reduce inflammation in the body that can lead to chronic disease.* 

Chinese Skullcap also contains vitamins and essential amino acids that support good health and provide energy to the body.

Research uncovered evidence of a range of potential health benefits associated with Chinese Skullcap. More studies are required to confirm efficacy and safety.

There are five areas where Chinese Skullcap is showing promise. 

Chinese Skullcap for Joint Health Support

In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 379 men and women with Rheumatoid Arthritis (OA) and coronary artery disease, one group was given baicalin and the other a placebo. At the end of the 12-week study, 71 percent of the group that had taken baicalin reported good to moderate results compared to 53 percent of the placebo group. The researchers reported that, “Baicalin reduces blood lipids and inflammation in patients with both CAD and RA, supporting its further clinical application.”REF#1507

Another human double-blind randomized control trial was conducted in 2014 with 79 men and women diagnosed with mild to moderate osteoarthritis of the knee. One group was given a blend of Chinese Skullcap with Acacia Catechu daily for a week, while the control group was given naproxen, a common over-the-counter pain reliever. The group given the herbal blend experienced a decrease in perceived pain and stiffness and an increase in range of motion, while the naproxen group experienced only a decrease in stiffness. Researchers concluded that the supplement blend may be effective in reducing the physical symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knee.REF#1508 Additional research is needed. 

Chinese Skullcap for Respiratory Health Support

Several animal studies using baicalein extracted from the roots of Chinese Skullcap have demonstrated the flavanoid’s ability to suppress inflammation and oxidative damage to cells to reduce features of asthma and protect against respiratory infections.REF#1509 REF#1510 These studies suggest that further investigation is warranted.

Chinese Skullcap for Liver Health Support

Based on only lab and animal studies, researchers believe Chinese Skullcap may have the potential to support healthy liver function.REF#1511 REF#1512 However, more research is needed to fully understand the potential benefits and risks of using Chinese Skullcap for liver disease. There have been cases where supplements that include the herb have caused hepatoxicity (liver damage caused by chemicals). 

Chinese Skullcap for Cancer Support

A growing number of studies are researching the role herbal polyphenols play in the prevention or treatment of cancer.REF#1513 There’s not enough evidence to claim that the antioxidant properties of polyphenols prevent cancer. It’s possible the polyphenols interfere with the molecular events involved in carcinogenesis (the formation of cancer). Or, they may inhibit the growth of cancer cells or kill cells after they’ve grown. 

While Chinese Skullcap has been used for centuries as a treatment for cancer, there is no scientific data to explain whether or how it works or which specific flavonoids (polyphenols) might be responsible for anti-cancer effects. Additionally, we may be a long way from determining what dosage would make these compounds effective. However, any potential compound is worth researching to make new drug discoveries in the fight against cancer.

Chinese Skullcap for Neuroprotection

We would all love a natural way to avoid cognitive decline and reduce our risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. It’s possible that Chinese Skullcap can provide some level of neuroprotection, but studies are still inconclusive. Several animal studies with rats suggest that baicalin derived from Chinese Skullcap may help improve memory impairment and slow or prevent nerve cell death .REF#1514 REF#1515More research is required. Most critically, human research is necessary before being able to recommend this herb.

How to Use Chinese Skullcap

Before using Chinese Skullcap for its potential benefits, it is essential to seek advice from a healthcare professional regarding dosage guidelines. Since there isn’t a safe dosage recommendation based on human research, this is especially important if you are taking medications or have a medical condition. 

Chinese skullcap is most available as an extract, tincture, or tea. It is also often combined with other herbs to support a healthy immune system. To ensure safety, always follow the directions on the supplement label and don’t take more than recommended.

Side Effects and Precautions of Chinese Skullcap

Chinese Skullcap is considered safe when taken as directed. 

In very rare cases, it may cause:

  • Allergic reactions: Some people may experience allergic reactions to Chinese Skullcap, particularly if they are allergic to other plants in the mint family. Symptoms of an allergic reaction may include rash, itching, swelling, and difficulty breathing.
  • Liver toxicity: There have been rare reports of liver toxicity associated with its use, primarily when used in combination with other herbal supplements. It is important to be aware of the symptoms of liver toxicity, including abdominal pain, nausea, and jaundice.
  • Interactions with other medications: Chinese skullcap may interact with certain medications, including drugs used to thin blood. If you are taking any medications, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider before using Chinese skullcap.

You should not take Chinese Skullcap if you are:

  • Pregnant or breastfeeding: There is not enough research to determine whether Chinese skullcap is safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women. It is best to avoid using it unless recommended by a healthcare professional.
  • Taking blood-thinning medication: Chinese skullcap may have a blood-thinning effect, which could interact with medications that have a similar effect. If you are taking blood-thinning medication, such as warfarin, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider before using Chinese skullcap.
  • Taking statins: Chinese skullcap may decrease blood levels of drugs used to lower cholesterol.
  • Taking CYP450 substrate drugs: These include steroids, anticonvulsants, antibiotics, nicotine, alcohol, and St John’s Wort. Lab studies suggest Chinese skullcap may increase the risk of side effects with these drugs but that research is limited.

Overall, Chinese Skullcap may have the potential to be a valuable addition to your natural healthcare regimen, especially when taken in an herbal blend designed to support your unique health goals.


  • 1. Xing-Wei Zhang et al,, "Protective effects of the aqueous extract of Scutellaria baicalensis against acrolein-induced oxidative stress in cultured human umbilical vein endothelial cells", Pharmaceutical Biology, 2010.
  • 2. Qing Zhao et al, "Scutellaria baicalensis, the golden herb from the garden of Chinese medicinal plants", Science Bulletin (Beijing), 2016.
  • 3. Yuanxing Hang et al, "Baicalin reduces blood lipids and inflammation in patients with coronary artery disease and rheumatoid arthritis: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial", Lipids in Health and Disease, 2018.
  • 4. Bahram H Arjmandi 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, June 2014.
  • 5. Shugo Ueda et al, "Baicalin induces apoptosis via mitochondrial pathway as prooxidant", Molecular Immunology, 2002.
  • 6. Cuicui Zhang et al, "Baicalein triazole prevents respiratory tract infection by RSV through suppression of oxidative damage", Microbial Pathogenesis, June 2019.
  • 7. Jin-yu Yang et al, "Pharmacological properties of baicalin on liver diseases: a narrative review", Pharmacological Reports, 2021.
  • 8. S. I. Jang et al, "Hepatoprotective Effect of Baicalin, a Major Flavone from Scutellaria radix, on Acetaminophen‐Induced Liver Injury in Mice", Immunopharmacology and Immunotoxicology, 2003.
  • 9. Chong Chen et al, "Baicalin attenuates alzheimer-like pathological changes and memory deficits induced by amyloid β1-42 protein", Metabolic Brian Disease, April 2015.
  • 10. Haitao Ding et al, "Protective Effects of Baicalin on Aβ₁₋₄₂-Induced Learning and Memory Deficit, Oxidative Stress, and Apoptosis in Rats", Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology, June 2015.