Squill, also known as Scilla or Bluebell, is a bulb-forming herbaceous perennial plant in the Hyacinth family that grows along the sandy coastline of the Mediterranean Sea. Scilla plants have a large bulb root, 15cm across, looking similar to an onion. This is the part of the plant that is used medicinally.

The bulb can weigh up to four pounds. It is harvested after the base leaves have withered, when the medicinal properties of the bulb are at their highest levels.

Squill Varieties

The genus Scilla, (Squills or Bluebells), consists of about 90 species, mostly native to woodlands, subalpine meadows, and seashores throughout Europe, Africa and the Middle-East.

There are three varieties of Squill distinguished by herbalists, and around 90 species distinguished by horticulturists, each with slightly different chemical properties. You can read more about the different horticultural species of Squill here.

Below we will discuss the main varieties of Squill known to herbal medicine:

White Squill (Scilla mischtschenkoana), also known as European squill or Sea Onion, is the one most commonly used for herbal supplements. White Squill is not known to contain the toxin scilliroside, although some have been found to have trace amounts. This is believed it be the result of cross pollination.

Siberian Squill (Scilla siberica) is a bulbous perennial plant prized for its delicate blue flowers that bloom in early spring. Native to Eastern Europe and Western Russia, it grows to a height of 10-20 centimeters (4-8 inches) and forms clusters of star-shaped flowers atop slender stems. Siberian squill is cultivated for its ornamental value, often naturalizing in woodland gardens and meadows.

While it has been used in traditional medicine, scientific evidence supporting its medicinal properties is limited, and caution should be exercised due to its potentially toxic compounds. Overall, Siberian squill is valued for its beauty and early spring color.

Red Squill, (Drimia maritima or Urginea martitima), often referred to as Indian Squill, contains a toxin called Scilliroside. This toxin is harmful to all creatures and deadly to those unable to rid itself of the toxin through vomiting. This is why Red Squill is commercially prepared for use as a rodent poison

Active Ingredients in Squill

The compounds that make Squill desirable for medicinal purposes are found in the inner layers of the bulb. It contains various compounds that contribute to its medicinal properties and potential effects.

Some of the active ingredients found in Squill include:

Cardiac Glycosides: Squill contains cardiac glycosides, including scillaren A and scillaren B, which are compounds that affect the heart. These glycosides have cardiotonic properties and can stimulate heart contractions. However, they can also be toxic if consumed in excessive amounts.

Bufadienolides: Bufadienolides are another group of compounds found in squill that have similar effects to cardiac glycosides. These compounds can increase the contractility of the heart muscle but may also be toxic in high doses.

Saponins: Squill contains saponins, which are natural surfactants that can create foamy lather when mixed with water. Saponins may have expectorant properties, helping to loosen and expel mucus from the respiratory tract.

Flavonoids: Flavonoids are antioxidant compounds found in squill that may contribute to its overall health benefits. Flavonoids have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which can help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals.

Alkaloids: Squill may also contain alkaloids, although their presence and effects may vary depending on the specific species and preparation of the plant. Alkaloids are nitrogen-containing compounds that can have diverse physiological effects in the body.

It’s important to note that while squill contains these active ingredients, it can also be toxic if used improperly or in excessive amounts. Squill preparations should be used cautiously and under the guidance of a qualified healthcare professional.

Historical Uses of Squill

Ancient physicians surrounding the Mediterranean Sea used Squill as a remedy for coughs, as an expectorant and as a diuretic. Some Squill cough remedies were first made by Pythogoras in ancient Greece, and are still available today.

It is also believed that a tonic containing Squill was used in Ancient times to assist the function of a patient’s heart.

Physicians were aware of the poisonous effect on animals, including humans, from the over consumption of any remedy containing Squill. Writings describing Squill, its usage and effects , can be found in Egyptian writing dating from 1500 BC and in various writings from the ancient Greeks.

Medicinal Uses of Squill

Squill has been used for various medicinal purposes, including as a cardiac stimulant and diuretic. However, it can also have toxic effects and may cause side effects in some individuals.

Below we will explore some of the uses of Squill in more detail:

Squill for Coughs and Respiratory Issues

Squill is found in remedies used to treat various lung diseases. Tonics are prepared for persons suffering with asthma, chronic bronchitis and those with whooping cough. The addition of Squill to the body stimulates the production of phlegm, thinning the thickened mucus found in the patient’s airways and allowing it to be expelled more easily.

Squill Affects the Heart

Medications containing squill are still used in some countries by traditional physicians to treat irregular heartbeats, mild heart failure and other heart-related issues. The bulb contains glucosamides, aiding the stimulation of the heart. Squill extract’s affect on the heart is both slowing the beats per minute and increasing the force of each individual beat. It has been found to take affect faster than that of Digitalis extract, which is more commonly used and is more readily absorbed.

Squill for Pain Relief

Squill is used to treat a wide variety of mild complaints. Chronic pain, stemming from over-stressed muscles and diseases such as Fibromyalgia, can be alleviated by Squill extracts. The extract is thought to have some analgesic properties, though more research is needed to confirm this.

How to Take Squill

Just as an onion is peeled, Squill’s outer layer is removed and discarded. The inner layers are finely sliced, dehydrated and ground into a powdered form to use in medicines.

Squill can be distilled as vinegar. It is often prepared in liquid form as an extract or juice. Squill extract can be used to create tonics. Many cough remedies and cough syrups contain Squill.

The bulb can also be mashed to use in poultices.

Always take care when taking herbs and Read Our Disclaimer.

Squill Notes / Side Effects

Scilla/Squill is a very potent herb and should only be taken from a reputable source as the wrong type of Squill, or too high a dose, is very poisonous. It can also have toxic effects and may cause side effects in some individuals.

It’s important to use squill preparations cautiously and under the guidance of a qualified healthcare professional. Individuals with underlying health conditions, particularly heart disease, respiratory disorders or allergies, should exercise caution when using Squill.

Here are some potential side effects of squill:

Gastrointestinal Disturbances: Consumption of squill preparations may lead to gastrointestinal side effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal discomfort. These symptoms may vary in severity depending on the dose and individual tolerance.

Cardiac Effects: Squill contains cardiac glycosides, compounds that can affect the heart. In high doses, squill may cause irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias), palpitations, or even cardiac arrest. Individuals with pre-existing heart conditions or those taking medications that affect heart function may be at higher risk of experiencing these effects.

Respiratory Irritation: Handling or inhaling squill powder or dust may cause respiratory irritation, leading to symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath. Individuals with respiratory conditions such as asthma may be more sensitive to these effects.

Skin Irritation: Direct contact with squill sap or extracts may cause skin irritation or allergic reactions in some individuals. Symptoms may include redness, itching, or dermatitis.

Toxicity: Squill contains various toxic compounds, including cardiac glycosides and alkaloids. Ingestion of large amounts of squill or its extracts can lead to poisoning, characterized by severe gastrointestinal symptoms, cardiovascular effects, and potentially life-threatening complications.

Pregnancy and Lactation: Due to its potential effects on the heart and uterus, squill is not recommended for use during pregnancy or breastfeeding. It may induce uterine contractions and could pose risks to both the mother and the developing fetus or nursing infant.

Drug Interactions: Squill may interact with certain medications, including cardiac glycosides (e.g., digoxin), diuretics, and medications that affect heart function. Concurrent use of squill with these medications may potentiate their effects or increase the risk of adverse reactions.

If you experience any adverse effects or allergic reactions after using squill, discontinue use and seek medical attention promptly.

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