Most are annual or perennialherbaceous plants from 5 to 100 cm (2 to 39 in) tall, but a few are subshrubs; some are aquatic. They have four-angled stems and opposite leaves. The flowers have upper and lower lips. The genus is most easily recognized by the typical shield on the calyx that has also prompted its common name.
Skullcaps are common herbal remedies in systems of traditional medicine. In traditional Chinese medicine they are utilized to "clear away the heat-evil and expel superficial evils".Scutellaria baicalensis in particular is a common component of many preparations. Its root, known as Radix Scutellariae, is the source of the Chinese medicine Huang Qin. It has been in use for over 2000 years as a remedy for such conditions as hepatitis, diarrhea, and inflammation. It is still in demand today, and marketed in volumes that have led to the overexploitation of the wild plant. Its rarity has led to an increase in price, and encouraged the adulteration of the product with other species of Scutellaria.
The main compounds responsible for the biological activity of skullcap are flavonoids.Baicalein, one of the important Scutellaria flavonoids, was shown to have cardiovascular effects in in vitro. Research also shows that Scutellaria root modulates inflammatory activity in vitro to inhibit nitric oxide (NO), cytokine, chemokine and growth factor production in macrophages. Isolated chemical compounds including wogonin, wogonoside, and 3,5,7,2',6'-pentahydroxyl flavanone found in Scutellaria have been shown to inhibit histamine and leukotriene release. Other active constituents include baicalin, apigenin, oroxylin A, scutellarein, and skullcapflavone.
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