Squill is biological source is dried slices of bulbs of two species Urginea maritima (European squill) and Urginea indica (Indian squill) both belonging to family Liliaceae/Hyacinthaceae. Genus name, Urginea is derived from an Arabian tribe, Ben Urginea and was coined by German botanist, Adolphe Steinhill along with the identification of other species. There are numerous other species of Squill like Scilla siberica (Siberian squill), Scilla peruviana (Portuguese Squill), Scilla bifolia (Alpine Squill) which are commonly not used much nowadays.
Squill is a perennial geophyte with fibrous roots proceeding from the base of large, tunicated, globular bulb, 6-10 inches tall. It’s rounded pear-shaped bulbs with white transparent outer scales, about the size of a big onion consisting of thin and papery red or orange-brown coloured fleshy coats enclosing each other completely. Bulbs grow in half submerged condition in sandy soil and sends long, lanceolate, pointed, shinning, dark green leaves 2 feet long when fully grown. Bulbs are pale yellowish to white coloured, bitter, acrid and mucilaginous in taste and slight in odour. The plant blooms whitish flowers which stand on purple peduncles in April and May which is followed by oblong capsules.
It is indigenous to dry, sandy places, especially seacoasts of Mediterranean regions like Southern France, Italy, Malta, Spain, Greece, Algeria, Morocco, Asia Minor. The other species, as the name indicates, Indian squill is found in India on the seacoasts including Saurashtra, dry hills of lower Himalayas.
Plant part used are bulbs which are transversely cut in slices, dried and powdered. Squill is commonly known by the names Sea Squill, sea onion, Scilla, European squill, white squill, Red squill, Urginea squill, Mediterranean Squill, Indian squill, Scilla bulb, Drimia maritima, Drimia indica, Esquila(Spainish), Basal Fra aau(Greek), Scille maritima(French).
What makes Squill Unique?
Major chemical constituents of Squill are cardiac glycosides (0.3-0.5%) which are mainly of Bufadienolide type. Other cardiac glycosides are also present in small anounts like Glucoscillaren A which is a tryglycoside (i.e it contains 3 sugars) – Scillarenin+rhamnose+glucose and Proscillaridin A- Scillarenin+rhamnose.
Many gylcosides are present, among them important one is Scillaren A(crystalline in nature), which constitutes about 2/3rd of total glycosides present in Squill. It’s acid hydrolysis in the presence of an enzyme shows that it contains 2 sugars (i.e it’s a biglycoside) – glucose and rhamnose. The aglycone/non-sugar part is called Scillaridin A/Scillarenin A. The bulb also contains Scillaren B (Amorphous in nature) and enzyme Scillarenase which brings about the hydrolysis.
Apart from cardiac glycosides, it also contains xanthoscillide, flavonoids, antifungal glycoprotein, mucilage (about 40%), Steroids, calcium oxalate,a fructose polysaccharide, sinistrin (a carbohydrate resembling insulin), in addition with a volatile substance which produces irritation.
Red Squill which is a red variety of European squill (Urginea maritima) apart from the above constituents also contain glycosides Scilliroside (0.01-.53%) and Scillirubroside. Its red colour is attributed to red anthocyanin pigment.
Health Benefits of Squill
Potent Heart stimulant/cardiotonic :The presence of cardiac glycosides (Scillaren A and proscillaridin) in bulb stimulates the heart and produce positive inotropic and negative chronotropic effects in case of heart insufficiency, angina pectoris, nephrotic edema, and it is emetic and cathartic in higher doses.
Chronic bronchitis : Stimulates bronchial mucous membrane in bronchial ailments. When compared to digitalis extract, it shows no cummulative action and acts rapidly.
Powerful Expectorant : Squill induces vomiting which is then preceded by increase in flow of other secretions. Therefore used as an ingredient in cough medicines and is also used to treat asthma.
Emetic : causes emesis in whooping cough and croup which is justified by the activity of cardiac glycosides.
Diuretic action : When taken in small doses, it has a direct stimulant effect on Kidney thereby acting as a diuretic.
Insecticidal agent : The phyto-bioactive compounds extracted from Squill showed mosquito repellant activities.
Abortifacient : Nowadays it’s rarely used for its abortifacient properties as studies have shown it to be dangerous and ineffective.
Anti-cancer : scillarenin has shown anticancer activity against human epidermoid carcinoma of nasopharynx in studies carried out in-vivo and in-vitro.
Treats seborrhea and dandruff : Methanolic extract of Red Squill is used as a hair tonic to treat the mentioned disorders.
Treat Psoriasis : Squill preparations are used in the treatment of inflammatory disease, Psoriasis due to the presence of steroids (corticosteroids).
Rodenticide : Scilliroside and Scillirubroside present in Red Squill are toxic to rats. Therefore used as rat poison.
When not to Use Squill
- Seek advice from your doctor before consuming it if you are pregnant or breast-feeding.
- Do not take Squill if you are taking Digoxin (Lanoxin) without talking to your helathcare professional as both stimulate the effecs of the heart and might prove dangerous.
- Do not consume Squill along with Calcium Supplements as it may stimulate the heart a little too much. Consult your health professional before taking this combination.
- Be cautious of consuming Squill if you are on a medication of Corticosteroids.
Potential Hazards/Side-effects of Squill
- Squill is poisonous if consumed in large doses.
- The fresh bulb has a viscid acrid juice that might cause skin blisters and inflammation of skin if rubbed on skin.
- The Red bulb (Red Squill, a red variety of European Squill) is not to be consumed by humans as it’s poisonous and toxic to human health.
- As consumption of overdose of Squill might prove poisonous it is adviced to consult a health professional before taking it.
It has potential to heal many human diseases. Besides, it also finds its use as pesticides against fungus, insects and rats. Squill has proved to be an economic and medicinally important plant.