There are about 100 species of bulbous perennials in this genus, found mainly in dry, often sandy, coastal or grassland areas of tropical Africa, with a few species in Mediterranean regions and Portugal. Urginea maritima is grown as an ornamental for its flower spikes, which resemble those of foxtail lilies (Eremurus species). Although easily grown in warm, sunny positions, it can be shy flowering in northern regions. This ancient medicinal herb was mentioned in the Ebers papyrus (c.1500BCE) and is still cultivated for medicinal purposes in Egypt and other Mediterranean countries. Bulbs are harvested after six years, with a yield of about 25000 bulbs per hectare (10000 per acre). Urginea maritima contains cardiac glycosides, notably scillarin, which affect the heart in similar ways to Digitalis species (See, Foxglove) but are less cumulative. It is known in the trade as "white squill" or "red squill", depending on the color of the bulb, which varies across the area of distribution. Although similar in constituents, only red bulbs contain the rat poison scilliroside, which poisons only rodents, while other animals vomit. Urginea indica syn. Drimia indica (Indian Squill) is often given as "squill vinegar", a preparation described by Dioscorides. Urginea maritima should not be confused with Ornithogalum longibracteatum syn. O. caudatum (False Sea Onion), which it superficially resembles. The false sea onion is quite different in chemistry; it is used in S African folk medicine to heal burns.

Indian squill, a highly toxic Mediterranean plant from the lily family, gets its name from the Greek word scilla, which means "excite" or "disturb". This is a good description of what squill does to the stomach, as it is known to cause vomiting and diarrhea. The bulb of the Indian Squill plant was once used to treat asthma and other breathing problems, increase the flow of urine, and improve heart functioning, although today it is considered too dangerous to use. In India, squill is sometimes used for wart removal.

Squill is a centuries-old medicine used as a diuretic and a stimulating expectorant for respiratory conditions such as bronchitis and lung disease. In the sixth century BCE, Pythagoras invented oxymel of squill, and expectorant preparation used for coughs. Squill is still used as a stimulating expectorant and diuretic as well as a cardiac tonic that slows and strengthens the pulse.

Robust perennial with a globose bulb, to 15cm (6in) across, composed of overlapping tunic scales, and narrowly lanceolate, glaucous leaves, 30cm-1m (1-3ft) long. Small, star-shaped, white flowers are produced in a dense spike in late summer and early autumn, followed by new leaves.

Common Name:
Other Names:
Indian Squill, Maritime Quill, Scilla, Sea Onion, South Indian Squill, White Squill
Botanical Name:
Urginea maritima syn. Drimia maritima, Urginea indica.
Native Location:
Free-draining, sandy or stony soil in full sun, with bulb partly or wholly above surface. Protect from winter wet.
By seed sown when ripe at 13-18°C (55-64°F); by offsets in summer when bulbs are dormant.
Bulbs are lifted in late autumn, sliced transversely, and dried for use in infusions, liquid extracts, squill vinegar, and tinctures.
1.5m (5ft)
30cm (12in)
Parts Used:
A bitter, acrid, very poisonous herb that has diuretic and expectorant effects, stimulates the heart, and acts as a scalp tonic.
Medicinal Uses:
Internally for bronchitis, bronchial asthma, whooping cough, and edema. Externally for dandruff and seborrhea.
To treat asthma, digestive problems, rheumatism, various skin conditions, and menstrual ailments.
To treat asthma, heart problems, whooping cough, back pain, hemorrhoids, and wounds. Germany's Commission E has approved the use of squill to treat irregular heartbeat, cardiac insufficiency, and nervous heart complaints.
Typical Dose:
A typical daily dose of quill (as standardized sea onion powder) is 0.1 to 0.5 gm.
Possible Side Effects:
Squill's side effects include irregular heartbeat, anxiety, tremors, nausea, and allergic reactions. Squill contains cardiac glycosides, which can help control irregular heartbeat, reduce the backup of blood and fluid in the body, and increase blood flow through the kidneys, helping to excrete sodium and relieve swelling in body tissues. However, a buildup of cardiac glycosides can occur, especially when the herb is combined with certain medications or other herbs that contain cardiac glycosides, causing arrhythmias, abnormally slow heartbeat, heart failure, and even death.
Drug Interactions:
Taking Indian squill with these drugs may increase the risk of arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat):
Albuterol, (Proventil, Ventolin)
Brimonidine, (Alphagan, P, PMS-Brimonidine Tartrate)
Cilostazol, (Pletal)
Dobutamine, (Dobutrex)
Dopamine, (Intropin)
Dopexamine, (Dopacard)
Enoximone, (Perfan)
Ephedrine, (Pretz-D)
Inamrinone, (Inamrinone)
Isoetharine, (Beta-2, Bronkosol)
Isoproterenol, (Isuprel)
Metaproterenol, (Alupent)
Metaraminol, (Aramine)
Milrinone, (Primacor)
Norepinephrine, (Levophed)
Pentoxifylline, (Pentoxil, Trental)
Phenylephrine, (Neo-Synephrine Extra Strength, Vicks Sinex Nasal Spray)
Pseudoephedrine, (Dimetapp Decongestant, Sudafed)
Quinidine, (Novo-Quinidin, Quinaglute Dura-Tabs)
Sildenafil, (Viagra)
Tadalafil, (Cialis)
Terbutaline, (Brethine)
Theophylline and Guaifenesin, (Elixophyllin-GC, Quibron)
Theophylline, (Elixophyllin, Theochron)
Vardenafil, (Vextra)
Taking Indian squill with these drugs may increase the therapeutic and/or adverse effects of the drug:
Beclomethasone, (Beconase, Vanceril)
Betamethasone, (Celestone, Diprolene)
Budesonide, (Entocort, Rhinocort)
Budesonide and Formoterol, (Symbicort)
Calcium Acetate, (PhosLo)
Calcium Carbonate, (Rolaids Extra Strength, Tums
Calcium Chloride, (Calcium Chloride)
Calcium Citrate, (Osteocit)
Calcium Glubionate, (Calcium Glubionate)
Calcium Glucepate, (Calcium Glucepate)
Calcium Gluconate, (Calcium Gluconate)
Cascara, (Cascara)
Cortisone, (Cortone)
Deflazacort, (Calcort, Dezacor)
Dexamethasone, (Decadron, Dexasone)
Digitalis, (Digitek, Lanoxin)
Docusate, (Colace, Ex-Lax Stool Softener)
Docusate and Senna, (Peri-Colace, Senokot-S)
Flunisolide, (AeroBid, Nasarel)
Fluorometholone, (Eflone, Flarex)
Fluticasone, (Cutivate, Flonase)
Hydrocortisone, (Anusol-HC, Locoid)
Lactulose, (Constulose, Enulose)
Loteprednol, (Alrex, Lotemax)
Magnesium Citrate, (Citro-Mag)
Magnesium Hydroxide, (Dulcolax Milk of Magnesia, Phillips' Milk of Magnesia)
Magnesium Hydroxide and Mineral Oil, (Phillips' M-O)
Magnesium Oxide, (Mag-Ox 400, Uro-Mag)
Magnesium Sulfate, (Epsom Salts)
Medrysone, (HMS Liquifilm)
Methylprednisolone, (DepoMedrol, Medrol)
Polyethylene-Glycol Electrolyte Solution, (Colyte, Miralax)
Prednisolone, (Inflamase Forte, Pred Forte)
Prednisone, (Apo-Prednisone, Deltasone)
Psyllium, (Metamucil, Reguloid)
Quinidine, (Novo-Quinidin, Quinaglute Dura-Tabs)
Rimexolone, (Vexol)
Sorbitol, (Sorbilax)
Triamcinolone, (Aristocort, Trinasal)
Taking Indian squill with these drugs may increase the risk of drug toxicity:
Cascara, (Cascara)
Digitalis, (Digitek, Lanoxin)
Docusate and Senna, (Peri-Colace, Senokot-S)
Qiunidine, (Novo-Quinidin, Quinaglute Dura-Tabs)
Lab Test Alterations:
May decrease red blood cell concentrations.
Disease Effects:
  • May worsen inflammatory or infectious gastrointestinal ailments by irritating the gastrointestinal tract.
  • May worsen existing cases of low potassium or calcium levels.
  • May worsen various heart ailments.
Supplement Interactions:
Large doses are emetic.
For use by qualified practioners only.
Economic Uses:
Extracts are added to cough mixtures and hair tonics. Used in rat poison.
Encyclopedia or Herbs ~ Deni Bown ~ copyright ©1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited. ~ pg 398.
The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide by Geo. T. Grossberg,MD and Barry Fox,PhD Copyright©2007 Barry Fox,PhD Pp.281-285; 428-430