Perennial growing to 5 ft (1.5 m) from a large white or red bulb. Has a single flowering stem, a rosette of large basal leaves, and a dense spike of white flowers.
Habitat & Cultivation
Native to southern Spain, the Canary Islands, and South Africa, squill is cultivated in the Mediterranean region. The bulb of the white (but not the red) variety is unearthed in late summer.
Squill contains cardiac glycosides (0.15–2.4% bufadienolides, including scillaren A), flavonoids, stigmasterol anthocyanidins, and mucilage. The cardiac glycosides are strongly diuretic and relatively quickacting. They do not have the same cumulative effect as those present in foxglove (Digitalis purpurea).
History & Folklore
Squill appears in the Egyptian Ebers papyrus (c. 1500 BCE). In Greece it was used by Pythagoras and Hippocrates in the 6th and 5th centuries BCE.
Medicinal Actions & Uses
Squill is a diuretic, emetic, cardiotonic, and expectorant plant that finds use in a wide range of conditions. It makes a good diuretic in cases of water retention. Since its active constituents do not accumulate to a great degree within the body, it is a potential substitute for foxglove in aiding a failing heart. At low dosage, squill is an effective expectorant. At higher doses, the herb acts as an emetic. Squill is also used in homeopathic preparations.
Use only under professional supervision. Squill is toxic in excessive doses.