scientific name: Croton lechleri
other common names: Sangre de draco, sangre de drago, sangre de grado
growing areas: Peru, Ecuador, and Brazil
physical description: The tree has heart-shaped, lime-colored leaves. The tree produces a red sap, hence the name dragon's blood.
traditional uses: Peruvian Indians would extract the red sap from the tree and use it as an astringent to help heal wounds and also as a vaginal bath before childbirth. It has been used as a traditional medicine in Latin America for inflammation, cancer, and infections. The harm that can befall the tree from the harvesting of the sap has raised concern from botanists and conservationists.
availability and dosage: Available in liquid resin form, as cut-and-sifted bark, and as an extract. Dosages vary.
contraindications: None noted.
special precautions: Consult your physician before beginning any use of an ethnobotanical substance for medicinal purposes.
Researchers have cautioned against internal use of extracts of dragon's blood that have a high level of taspine, an alkaloid. Taspine levels can vary, depending upon the country of origin of the plant, with sap obtained from Ecuador having very little taspine but Peruvian sap having greater amounts.
medical research: Some studies have found that the taspine, found in the red sap of dragon's blood, appears to accelerate the healing of wounds. But later research at the University of London School of Pharmacy has cast doubt on taspine's wound-healing power, suggesting instead that substances known as polyphenols may be responsible.
The same British study also examined the ability of dragon's blood to kill certain human cancer cells and bacteria. In laboratory tests on samples of human oral cancer cells, dragon's blood sap proved toxic to those cells. In addition, other components in the sap were believed to be valuable in killing off bacteria, making dragon's blood useful as an anti-infective.
A San Francisco-based firm, Shaman Pharmaceuticals, filed a patent for a dragon's-blood-based drug called Provir, based on early tests showing that 89 percent of 75 people afflicted with acute diarrhea experienced a return to normal bowel function after taking the drug. Data indicated that Provir acted by inhibiting the secretion of chloride ions from the lining of the small intestine, which tends to lead to an accumulation of fluid in that organ. This allowed Provir to treat so-called watery diarrhea, often an affliction of AIDS patients. In 1998 it was announced that trials had shown that AIDS patients who used Provir showed a significant reduction in bowel miovements associated with diarrhea. In 1999 Shaman began marketing a similar product under the label SB-Normal Stool Formula as a dietary supplement.
In 1997, tests of Virend, a topical antiviral agent that Shaman derived from dragon's blood, showed that the drug reduced genital herpes lesions in AIDS patients. It appeared that Virend binds to the herpes virus and prevents it from binding to the cells of the host person, the company said. Further tests were planned.