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Dragon's Blood

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Dragon's Blood - Background and History

Dragon's blood presents an often confusing subject in herbalism due to the large body of unrelated plant species which provide a source for 'Dragon's blood'. Dragon's blood itself is a resinous substance - in actuality a tree sap (and not a gum as is commonly thought of), generally dark or bright-red in appearance which is derived and obtained from any number of plants within the generas Dracaena, [1] Daemonorops, [2] Croton, [3] Calamus rotang, [4] and (rarely) Pterocarpus. [5] All the aforementioned plants are notable for their distinctively bright-red sap, which the plant extrudes when injured. Just like other sap-based resins, such plants are tapped in order to obtain the sap, which is then left to solidify or otherwise collected in its raw state or shaped into moderately large balls prior to shipment (as is the case with resins obtained from Calamus rotang and Croton lechleri.



Nowadays, the majority of plant species which are still actively being employed as a source for Dragon's blood belongs to the generas Dracaena and Daemonorops, although in the East (China, Japan) the Calamus rotang is still the preferred source for the resin, while in South America and its neighbouring areas, Croton lechleri is the preferred (and only available) choice. Depending on the tree species from which Dragon's blood is obtained, its rubicundity may vary from a very deep red (bordering on black) to an almost bright-red to cinnabar-red like hue. Because some species of Dragon's blood plants (i. e. Dracaena cinnabari / Daemonorops draco / Calamus rotang) produce a cinnabar-hued resin (which is then ground to powder), cinnabar itself has been used in ancient times to adulterate batches of powdered Dragon's blood, which was by then a very expensive and prized commodity. Cinnabar is now known to be highly toxic, and while the practice of adulterating Dragon's blood resin powder with cinnabar has dwindled to almost non-existence, some rare occurrences are still known.

Dragon's blood (from any of the aforementioned generas) have been known and prized since ancient times, although they themselves had very little knowledge of the exact origin of the substance. Many ancients believed that Dragon's blood was in reality the authentic coagulated blood of dragons which had died in mortal combat, or that were otherwise slain. Some of the mythical origin-stories of Dragon's blood even suggested that islands in the Far East had dense populations of dragons which were hunted down and slain for the express purpose of procuring their blood. The legend of the origins of Dragon's blood may have come about during the Middle Ages, when the spice trade was highly monopolised and controlled, and may have even persisted until well into the latter part of the 15th to 17th centuries, when the East India Company's influence was at its peak.

Dragon's blood was not at all unknown to the Early Greeks, the Ancient Egyptians, and the Early Romans, and was something of a rare and prized commodity. During the Roman Republic until well into the height of the Roman Empire, most of the Dragon's blood which was supplied to Rome came from the island of Socotra in Yemen, where Dracaena cinnabari grows endemically. [6] Socotra has been trading Dragon's blood through neighboring channels since the Ptolemaic Period, although Dragon's blood from other sources was not uncommon. Its medicinal properties were known to the Early Greek physicians such as Dioscorides and Hippocrates. Its role as a commodity may have also brought it to the attention of the likes of Galen and Ibn Sina (Avicenna), although Avicenna's Dragon's blood may well be sourced from Calamus rotang or Pterocarpus soyauxii, which was more readily obtained in the Middle East. Dragon's blood was strongly popular for many ancient civilisations, particularly because it played a very strong role in medicine and pagan spirituality, but it's true popularity originated in its vibrant colouration, which was main source of red dye (a then rare and valued colour, particularly among the Romans) and one of the earliest compounds to be employed in the preservation of wood.

The trade of Dragon's blood is something of an obscurity in the field of historical anthropology, simply because Dragon's blood has a number of points of origin. It can be assumed however that it was just as prized as frankincense, myrrh, and other substances, and depending on the trade route and the most readily available source for the substance, the rarer and costlier it was making it among the earliest commodities being carried along the Incense Trail - a trading route far older than the Silk and Spice Roads. The trade in Dragon's blood can be traced to three different points of origin - the Grecian peninsulas in the Mediterranean, which traded Dracaena cinnabari sourced Dragon's blood; the Arabian peninsula which traded Dracaena cinnabari and Pterocarpus-sourced Dragon's blood; and East Asia, which traded in Calamus rotang, and Daemonorops draco-sourced Dragon's blood. South American Dragon's blood from Croton lechleri only came into the world of international trade upon the eventual discovery of the New World. It was not immediately employed as were the other variants of Dragon's blood, until sufficient influx from native medicine of the region provided Westerners with a foothold on its usage.

It is also due to its varying sources that it is important to narrate, at least in a quick overview, all the plant generas from which Dragon's blood is sourced. Today, two distinct plant generas are at the forefront of Dragon's blood harvesting - Daemonorops and Dracaena. While both of have had a long history of employment as a means to obtain Dragon's blood, they strongly remain one of the most popular sources to this present day. The genus Daemonorops are a group of rattan palms which are native to the subtropical and tropical regions of Southeast Asia, and is characterised by its dark-red, berry-like fruits, some of which are gathered and used as natural beads for malas (Hindi and Buddhist prayer beads) and for its pale-green palm fronds and thick stalks. The branches of Daemonorops are harvested chiefly for its dark-red or maroon-hued core, which, when dried is employed as Dragon's blood. The core of the plant is soft and sticky, and is generally gathered in large batches to be shaped during a later stage into moderate to large-sized balls, which are allowed to dry and fully solidify. These balls are then packed in burlap bags and shipped out for sale. The genus Dracaena comprises two distinct sources (at least in general trade) for Dragon's blood - D. draco and D. cinnabari (the latter being one of the oldest source-species for Dragon's blood, known to be endemic to the island of Socotra), and is known for its very unique trunk-formation, often resulting in a mass of interfused branches that tower upwards to an umbrella-like growth of palm like fronds. Unlike Daemonorops which are harvested for its core, these two distinct species Dracaena (and others similar to it) are simply scarred or tapped to extract the resinous substance from which its variant of Dragon's blood is sourced.

Trees from the genus Pterocarpus, native to much of East and Southeast Asia, are large, long-lived hardwood trees that has a long history of use. When employed as a source for Dragon's blood, the bark of the plant is often peeled away from the host tree, after which it is then dried and sold as Dragon's blood. Alternately, the plant also exudes a sap, generally pale to bright red in hue, which is allowed to pool and harden in the bark of the plant, also employed as Dragon's blood. The plant species Calamus rotang, a type of rattan palm native to a large part of the Southwest and a small part of Southeast Asia, is a dioecious plant with fern-like palm fronds. It produces edible fruits shaped like spin-tops, and is distinctive for scaly appearance, as a whole being covered in red-brown hued imbricate scales. The fruits of the plant are collected when mature and broken open to obtain a sour-smelling red to maroon-hued resin, which is then shaped into blocks or balls and dried, much like Daemonorops-resins, and sold in the market as Dragon's blood.

A fairly recent addition (at least in the field of general Western interest) of plants employed as sources for Dragon's blood are Croton lechleri and Jatropha dioica, both flowering plants belonging to the family Euphorbiaceae (spurge family), that are native to northwestern South America and its neighboring territories. Known by natives as Sangre de Grado or Sangre de Drago it is primarily harvested for its latex, a bright-red sap in appearance which seeps out in small globular 'grains' when the bark or stems of the plant are injured. These grains are sold commercially as Dragon's blood in its dry state, although it is more commonly employed in its fresh, 'raw' state by natives.

Because of the sheer prolific sources for Dragon's blood, each resin contains specific medicinal properties, (if employed for just such a purpose) intrinsically found in its source plant. Surprisingly, all of the plant sources for Dragon's blood possess no known toxicity to humans, and is generally well tolerated for topical and even internal applications. There seems to be a general consensus on its medicinal applications in spite of the substance having been sourced from wholly unrelated plant species, and while traditional (that is, tribal) applications for the resin or plant constituents may vary, Dragon's blood, regardless of its point of origin, serves strongly similar medicinal properties, at least within the context of its Western application.

Dragon's Blood - Common / Popular Uses

Dragon's blood, regardless of the point of origin, has a number of uses both within the field of artisanal industry and in alternative medicine. In the field of early industry, Dragon's blood was among the primary sources of red dye - a practice which may have perhaps originated from the Orient, only to be adopted later by the Greeks or Romans as the practice was forwarded through trade. Dragon's blood was originally employed in ancient times as a medicine, with resin sourced from Dracaena draco, Dracaena cinnabari, and Daemonorops draco being the oldest medicinally employed sources of Dragon's blood. Dragon's blood was a prized resin during ancient times, generally employed in the medicinal sense as a remedy for diarrhoea thanks to its highly astringent nature. It was given usually in a suspension of boiling water to remedy stomachaches, indigestion, lumbago, dyspepsia, and, in moderate amounts, even stomach ulcer. It is a very potent cure for a variety of oral conditions, among them halitosis, mouth ulcerations, toothaches, and gingivitis. [7] When used to treat oral problems, it is usually decocted and employed as a gargle, although its use as a sort of chewing gum is not at all out of place, albeit the practice is chiefly limited to ethnobotanical applications.

Dragon's blood has experienced somewhat of a surge in recent alternative medicinal applications after having been touted as an excellent skin rejuvenator. Long employed by the ancients as a topical antiseptic, disinfectant, astringent, and emollient, Dragon's blood has, of late, begun to appear in over-the-counter beauty cr'mes and facial masks, and is being touted as 'better' at maintaining the youth, vibrancy, and elasticity of skin compared to over-the-counter drugs or botulin injection, although such claims are yet to be substantiated by scientific studies. [8]

Dragon's blood sourced from Croton lechleri possesses properties unique unto itself, for while it shares similar medicinal properties to other varieties of Dragon's blood, its ethnobotanical applications in the field of wound-healing are unique. The South American natives have long employed the resin of Croton lechleri as a wound disinfectant, astringent, and as a general antimicrobial agent - traits which this variety of Dragon's blood shares with all the others. It is unique however, in that it the sticky gum derived from the plant can be applied directly to open wounds to act as a binder or 'glue' that not only seals the wound and prevents bleeding and infection, but one that (it is said) hastens healing as well. C. lechleri-sourced Dragon's blood is said to create a thin film of skin-like membrane when applied to open wounds which act as a natural sterile barrier, but one that allows moisturises as it disinfects. During ancient times, it was employed as a go-to remedy for various injuries, and was (and still is) indispensible for general first-aid. [9]



The locals of South America also value their variant of Dragon's blood as a powerful topical analgesic, and would steep whole resins in cold-pressed oil of their choosing, to be employed as a topical liniment for the remedying of rheumatism and arthritis. Because of its powerful antimicrobial properties, the oil, which would be imbued with the essence of the resin, and in time sufficiently dissolve it, can even be employed as a treatment for various skin disorders, and may even be used to provide ready relief for animal and insect bites. This oil was employed by post-partum mothers in order to facilitate in the healing of minor 'injuries' which may be sustained from childbirth, and for would-be mothers as a remedy for yeast infections, thrush, and even vaginitis. [10]

During the early 17th century and up until the present day, Dragon's blood, regardless of source, has also been employed as a high-quality varnish far more superior to copal-based varnishes and shellac. It was once a prized item among violinmakers, and is the favoured choice of finish for a number of Stradivari-crafted violins. Dragon's blood-based varnish is known for its rich, deep-red hue and superior gloss. [11]

Dragon's blood, regardless of origin, has also long been employed as a fumigating agent, and plays a unique and distinctive role in various ethnobotanical uses of incense. Not only is Dragon's blood incense employed as a remedy for everything from headaches to bronchitis, it is also used as a natural insect repellant. In many tropical countries where Dragon's blood may be sourced, pregnant and pre-labour women are encouraged to fumigate their privates with a mixture of Dragon's blood and various emmenagogue herbs or spices in the belief that it will help to tone the pelvic muscles in the hopes of easier birthing. Prior to delivery, such practices are often perpetuated by traditional healers or shamans in order to ease birth pangs and hasten delivery. [12]

With the advent of modern extraction methods, essential oil of Dragon's blood (regardless of source, but most commonly obtained from Daemonorops and Dracaena) have even been employed in aromatherapeutic applications, and is even used in perfumery. It is believed that Dragon's blood helps to alleviate the symptoms of stress and anxiety, while effectively acting as a sort of mental and emotional tonic that uplifts as it soothes. [13] Unlike traditionally employed resins however, aromatherapeutic preparations of Dragon's blood should not be applied as a remedy for bronchial disorders, as it may be unsafe.

Dragon's Blood - Esoteric / Magickal Uses

Due in part to its former mystique, Dragon's blood plays an integral role in esoteric and magickal preparations, with a history of usage dating back to the time of the Ancient Egyptians. It must be understood that because of the sheer variety of its points of origin, one cannot fully codify nearly all of the ethnic esoteric applications of the compound, with many practices undoubtedly being lost due to the slow onset of progress and the loosening of once strict specific tribal customs or traditions. It is believed by a few however, that Dragon's blood may have played quite a significant role in entheogenic drug use among tribes which had access to it; this is however debatable, as Dragon's blood by itself possesses no known psychoactive compounds which can make it a prime candidate for entheogenic purposes.

In modern esoteric applications, Dragon's blood is often employed by many neo-pagans, particularly by individuals who practice Wicca, as bolstering incense for spellwork. It is believed that Dragon's blood incense, regardless of origin, increases the power and efficiency of a spell when burnt during casting. It features strongly in most modern warding and cleansing spells, and may even be employed as offertory incense to various spirits and deities. [14] Individuals who practice South American shamanism often employ a specific variety of Dragon's blood for their rituals - one sourced from Croton lechleri. Neo-shamanic practices. Hoodoo and voodoo also use Dragon's blood for fixing spells, fertility spells, and love potions. [15]

Dragon's blood oil, which can be made from either the maceration of whole resins in a base oil, or the addition of its distilled essential oil to one's choice of base oil, can be used for consecration, warding, and anointing. It is most often used for the creation of Dragon's blood ink, which is comprised of a simple solution of ground resin with an alcohol base and a binder (usually gum Arabic), with or without the addition of other magickal herbs or essential oils. This ink, which is known for its deep-red hue that later fades into a blood-red to pale umber hue, is used chiefly in the creation of talismans, or as a general ink for the making of pacts and seals. [16] It may be further employed as writing ink for grimoires, although this practice is sometimes found as somewhat excessive.

Dragon's blood, when sourced from any of the above-stated plant matter, is generally considered to be relatively safe for topical and internal use, although one should take into account the possibility of allergic reactions of any of the Dragon's blood resins stated. As a general precaution, children below the age of eight, and pregnant women must not use any of the above-mentioned varieties of Dragon's blood to avoid possible complications, and, in the case of pregnant women, the possibility of a miscarriage. Individuals who are also under blood thinning medication are advised to avoid the regular employment of Dragon's blood, especially if partaken of internally, as most Daemonorops and Dracaena sourced Dragon's blood resins possess highly potent anti-coagulative properties which may compromise blood-thinning medications.

Dragon's Blood - Safety Notes

It must be noted that there is a prolific number of imitation Dragon's blood sold in the market which is not sourced from any of the above-stated plants. These red-hued resins may be compounded from various materials and do not possess any of the known medicinal properties of any true variants of Dragon's blood, and may perhaps even be toxic. Compounds such as iron ore, cinnabar, or copper are often mixed with assorted tree saps or synthetic resins and sold as Dragon's blood. The use of such compounds is highly toxic and even fatal and the mere burning of it as incense is detrimental to health. It is advised that one employ only any of the known true variants of Dragon's blood, especially for medicinal applications.

Dragon's Blood - Other Names, Past and Present

Chinese: xue jie
Japanese: kirinketsu
Korean: gilin hyeol
French: dragonnier / dragonnier des Canaries / palmier sang-dragon / sang-dragon / sang de dragon / sang du dragon
Spanish: sangre de grado / sangre de drago
Portuguese: sangre de drago
Italian: sangue di drago
German: drachenblut
Latin (esoteric nomenclature): draconis resina / sanguis draconis
Latin (scientific nomenclature): various, but often Daemonorops draco (Dragon's blood palm) / Dracaena cinnabari (Socotra Dragon's blood tree) / Croton lechleri (Sangre de grado tree) / Calamus rotang / Calamus draco (an older nomenclature for Daemonorops draco) / Pterocarpus soyauxii (this latter has been employed as a source of Dragon's blood, albeit rarely)

Dragon's Blood - References:

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dracaena_(plant)

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daemonorops

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Croton_(genus)

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calamus_rotang

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pterocarpus

[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socotra

[7] https://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/d/dragon20.html

[8] http://www.drugs.com/npc/dragon-s-blood.html

[9] http://www.medicinehunter.com/dragons-blood/

[10] http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-30-DRAGON%27S%20BLOOD

[11] http://www.woodfinishingenterprises.com/varnish.html

[12] http://www.rain-tree.com/sangre.htm#.Uze2PLVNQm8

[13] http://www.arkive.org/dragons-blood-tree/dracaena-cinnabari/

[14] http://thecrunchypaganmomblog.blogspot.com/2013/08/medicinal-and-magical-herbs-dragons.html

[15 - 16] http://www.magicalrecipesonline.com/2012/04/ancient-ink-formula-recipe-dragons.html

Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt. © herbs-info.com 2014

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