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Sangre De Drago

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Background & General Info

Sangre de drago, which literally means “dragon’s blood” in reference to the tree’s distinctive thick red latex, is a flowering species belonging to Euphorbiaceae, or the spurge family. Scientifically called Croton lechleri, it is native to the jungles of northwestern South America, inhabiting the low mountainous areas of the Peruvian Andean regions and the forests of Colombia, Ecuador, and Bolivia. [1][2] Slashing the tree’s bark is well-known to release a viscous bright red or yellow latex (i.e., the “dragon’s blood”) with various therapeutic properties. [1] Such latex or sap can be collected similar to rubber and flows more profusely in the morning. Within a 2- to 3-year cycle, sangre de drago tree can produce around 1.5 liters of sap. [3]


Croton lechleri is a fast-growing medium-sized tree that can attain a height of 30–45 feet within a span of 3 years. [3] It has a narrow trunk with a diameter of approximately 1 foot, which is covered with smooth, mottled bark. [4][5] Its several heart-shaped, bright green leaves are large and its greenish-white flowers are on long stalks, which eventually turn into small 3-part capsular fruits that are borne on a spike. [4][5]

History & Traditional Use

The viscous sap collected from sangre de drago trees has been widely used in folk medicine as treatment of skin disorders. [1] In traditional medicine, sangre de drago has been commonly prescribed for a variety of ailments. In South America, for instance, the sap is applied for several purposes, especially for wound healing, [6] whereas in Peru, it is also considered as an ethnomedicine for bone fractures, leukorrhea, piles, and hemorrhoids. [7] Indigenous communities along the Amazon River basin regard sangre de drago as an herbal medicine that encourages healing of gastric ulcers and relieves gastritis, diarrhea, skin lesions, and insect stings. [3]

The extensive use of sangre de drago sap by the indigenous tribes of Mexico, Peru, and Ecuador was first documented by the Spanish naturalist and explorer P. Bernabé Cobo in the 1600s. [7] The sap is also utilized in folk magic or voodoo of the African-American culture “to draw money or love” and is prepared as incense to “purify” a space of negative entities or influences. [7]

General Herbal Uses

A number of in vitro and in vivo studies have confirmed the ethnomedicinal utility of sangre de drago as treatment for diarrhea, wounds, tumors, stomach ulcers, herpes infection, itching, pain and swelling due to insect bites, and other conditions. Clinical studies have also reported favorable findings for sangre de drago products used in the treatment of traveler’s and watery diarrhea and insect bite symptoms. [8] “Dragon’s blood” is also used as a cicatrizant (an agent that promotes wound healing through the formation of scar tissue) and as an anti-inflammatory and anticancer medicine. [9] As a wound healing agent, it is applied on the skin to treat abrasions, cuts, scratches, and blisters, forming a seal or long-standing barrier over the wound or lesion by coprecipitating with proteins or other components of the underlying matrix. [3]

The Latin Americans living in Peru, the United States, and other countries employ the sap of sangre de drago as a common household remedy that is consumed orally to treat various forms of diarrhea and cholera. [7] Oral administration of sangre de grado, in diluted concentration, is advised for severe gastrointestinal distress, including gastritis, gastric ulcers, intestinal infections, and inflammation. [3] Furthermore, the sap is administered to hasten the internal healing of women after an abortion and is incorporated in vaginal baths intended to be bathe on prior to childbirth. [7] Sangre de drago is also widely used for bites and stings; it does so by relieving pain and itching within minutes and subsequently decreasing swelling and redness. [3]

Constituents/Active Components

An phytochemical analysis by Setzer et al. (2007) who used gas chromatography–mass spectrometry identified the following major components of essential oil from sangre de drago bark: p-caryophyllene (31.9%), caryophyllene oxide (22.0%), 1,8-cineole (6.2%), and alpha-humulene (5.6%). [10] Pieters et al. (1993) employed bioassay-guided fractionation of “dragon’s blood” and isolated a dihydrobenzofuran lignan, 3',4-O-dimethylcedrusin, as well as 4-O-methylcedrusin [2-(3',4'-dimethoxyphenyl)-3-hydroxymethyl-2,3-dihydro-7-hydroxybenzo furan-5-propan-1-ol] and the alkaloid taspine. [6] According to an early study, proanthocyanidins serve as the major constituents of Croton lechleri sap, comprising up to 90% of the dried weight. The sap contains (+)-catechin, (−)-epicatechin, (+)-gallocatechin, (−)-epigallocatechin, and dimeric procyanidins B-1 and B-4, as well as dimers and trimmers. [11]

Medicinal/Scientific Research


A 2004 study demonstrated the significant antioxidant activity of Croton lechleri sap against oxidative damages induced by apomorphine (dopamine agonist) in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae under all study conditions. Moreover, the sap effectively protected the cells of maize plantlets against the toxic effect of apomorphine, although in the case of hydrogen peroxide, the sap exhibited antioxidant activity only in cells undergoing their stationary phase of growth. [9] By monitoring the intensity of chemiluminescence enhanced by peroxyl radicals, Desmarchelier et al. (1997) also evaluated the total reactive antioxidant potential of sangre de drago and determined it as 935.4 ± 141 µM, which was measured as equivalents of Trolox concentration. Additionally, sangre de drago at high concentrations was also observed to effectively reduce the oxidation of DNA and demonstrated an increase in light emission during the antioxidant activity test, which employed hydroperoxide-initiated chemiluminescence in rat liver homogenates. The latter finding suggested the presence of prooxidant compounds. [12]


Lopes et al. (2004) investigated the mutagenic activity of sangre de drago sap in Salmonella typhimurium/microsome assay and in Saccharomyces cerevisiae cells. Findings indicated the mutagenic activity of this sap in the Salmonella typhimurium strain TA1535 and in the haploid Saccharomyces cerevisiae strain XV185-14c for the lys1-1, his1-7 locus-specific reversion and hom3-10 frameshift mutations. However, mutagenic activity of the sap for strain TA98 was weak. [9] Rossi et al. (2003) evaluated the antiproliferative property of sangre de drago sap in vitro against human myelogenous leukemia K562 cells. Results of the Ames/Salmonella test showed that the sap inhibited the mutagenic activity of 2-aminoanthracene, an indirectly acting mutagen, and provided moderate protection against sodium azide and 2-nitrofluorene, which are directly acting mutagens. [13]


Findings of Pereira et al. (2010) pointed out the efficacy of sangre de drago as a potent inhibitor of cutaneous neurogenic inflammation, which can be linked to the plant’s ability to directly prevent the release of neuropeptides by sensory afferent nerves. In an in vitro model of cutaneous neurogenic inflammation, which was based on an enzyme immunoassay of substance P in a porcine coculture of dorsal root ganglion neurons and keratinocytes, incubation at various concentrations of sangre de drago led to an immediate and significant dose-dependent decrease in the release of basal substance P, with average values of 32% and 26% at 1% and 0.1% concentrations of sangre de drago (v/v), respectively. Capsaicin-induced release of substance P was inhibited by 111% and 65% following 72-hour and 1-hour pretreatment of the coculture with 1% sangre de drago. On the other hand, sangre de drago at a concentration of 0.1% (v/v) induced a 109% and 30% inhibition after 72 hours and 1 hour of treatment, respectively. [1]


An early study published in the journal Planta Medica confirmed the antibacterial property of the red sap of sangre de drago in in vitro assays. Many of the sap’s simple phenolic compounds and diterpenes also displayed potent antibacterial activity. [14]


SP-303 is a proanthocyanidin oligomer identified from the latex of Croton lechleri. It directly binds to the components of the viral envelope, inhibiting the attachment and penetration of the virus into the plasma membrane and making this compound a medicinally vital constituent of sangre de drago because of its broad activity against numerous DNA and RNA viruses. According to Ubillas et al. (1994), SP-303 displays potent inhibitory activity in cell culture against isolates and laboratory strains of respiratory syncytial virus, influenza A virus, and parainfluenza virus, with comparable antiviral action with ribavirin, an antiviral medication, based on results from parallel assays. Furthermore, it was proven to notably inhibit herpesvirus types 1 and 2, including acyclovir- and foscarnet-resistant herpesviruses, and hepatitis A and B viruses. By employing CPE, MTT, and precursor uptake/incorporation, Ubillas et al. (1994) evaluated the antiviral effects of SP-303 and evidenced its activity in cotton rats and African green monkeys infected with respiratory syncytial virus, cotton rats infected with parainfluenza virus-3, mice and guinea pigs infected with herpesvirus-2, and mice infected with influenza A virus. It appeared that the most efficacious routes of administration of SP-303 are topical treatment to herpesvirus-2 genital lesions in mice and guinea pigs; aerosol inhalation to mice and rats infected with influenza A virus and parainfluenza virus-3, respectively; and oral administration to cotton rats infected with respiratory syncytial virus. [15]

Gastric Ulcers And Diarrhea

Based on their results, Miller et al. () concluded the efficacy of sangre de grado as a cost-effective treatment for gastrointestinal ulcers and distress owing to its antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and sensory-afferent-dependent activities. Administration of sangre de grado diluted in drinking water from the postoperative period to day 7 was shown to have resulted in healing of experimental gastric ulcers, which were induced in this study by briefly exposing the stomach fundus of rats to acetic acid (80%). Such administration also diminished the activity of myeloperoxidase and reduced the size and bacterial content of ulcers. The induction of ulcers in experimental rats upregulated the expression of proinflammatory genes for tumor necrosis factor-alpha, inducible nitric oxide synthase, interleukin-1beta, interleukin-6, and cyclooxygenase-2. Such effect of ulcers was reversed and reduced by sangre de grado administration, particularly iNOS and IL-6. In the test using Ussing chambers, sangre de grado was also found to weaken the secretory responses of guinea pig ileum to capsaicin. [3]


By utilizing in vitro assays, Risco et al. (2003) demonstrated the immunomodulatory activity of the latex from sangre de drago, which is likely attributed to its proanthocyanidin content. It was found to potently inhibit the activities of classical and alternative complement pathways in human serum, as well as the proliferation of activated T-cells. Using DPPH, the researchers also showed the free radical scavenging activity of sangre de drago latex. Aside from that, the latex displayed concentration-dependent antioxidant or prooxidant properties and stimulated or inhibited phagocytosis of opsonised fluorescent microspheres depending on its concentration, as evaluated by flow cytometry. The result from carrageenan-induced rat paw edema test indicated strong anti-inflammatory activity in vivo when sangre de drago latex was administered intraperitoneally. [16]

Chagas Disease

Chagas disease is a tropical debilitating disease caused by the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi; in many countries of South and Central America, it is a life-long infection that can potentially result in heart failure. A major cysteine protease existing in Trypanosoma cruzi called cruzain (or cruzipain) has been revealed to play a key role in the development and survival of this parasite within its host cells. This makes cruzain a target enzyme for possible trypanocidal drugs. [17] Results of the study of Setzer et al. (2007) determined that the essential oil extracted from the bark of sangre de drago inhibited the activity of cruzain. However, the individual major components of the essential oil, namely, p-caryophyllene, caryophyllene oxide, 1,8-cineole, and a-humulene, exhibited only minimal inhibitory activity against cruzain. The essential oil of sangre de drago bark was also investigated for its cytotoxic activity against a panel of human tumor cell lines, but it unfortunately demonstrated negligible activity. [10]

Contraindications, Interactions, And Safety

The use of sangre de drago is generally considered safe, but the fact remains that data on its contraindications, side effects, and interactions are still lacking. Pregnant and lactating women are likewise advised to avoid its use or at least consult a healthcare practitioner prior to use. A 2003 review of pharmacologic evidence for sangre de drago indicated low toxicity for sangre de drago sap and good tolerance of its preparations in clinical studies. [8] Several toxicological tests on SP-303, a component of sangre de drago, attested its safety when orally administered. [15]


[1] U. Pereira, C. Garcia-Le Gal, G. Le Gal, N. Boulais, et al., "Effects of sangre de drago in an in vitro model of cutaneous neurogenic inflammation," Experimental Dermatology, vol. 19, no. 9, p. 796–799, 2010.

[2] S. De Marino, F. Gala, F. Zollo, S. Vitalini, et al., "Identification of minor secondary metabolites from the latex of Croton lechleri (Muell-Arg) and evaluation of their antioxidant activity," Molecules, vol. 13, no. 6, p. 1219–1229, 2008.

[3] M. Miller, W. MacNaughton, X. Zhang, J. Thompson, et al., "Treatment of gastric ulcers and diarrhea with the Amazonian herbal medicine sangre de grado," American Journal of Physiology-Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology, vol. 279, no. 1, p. 192–200, 2000.

[4] G. Engels, "Dragon's Blood," American Botanical Council.

[5] L. Taylor, The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs, New York: Square One Publishers, Inc., 2005.

[6] L. Pieters, T. de Bruyne, M. Claeys, A. Vlietinck, et al., "Isolation of a dihydrobenzofuran lignan from South American dragon's blood (Croton spp.) as an inhibitor of cell proliferation," Journal of Natural Products, vol. 56, no. 6, p. 899–906, 1993.

[7] D. Gupta, B. Bleakley and R. K. Gupta, "Dragon’s blood: Botany, chemistry and therapeutic uses," Journal of Ethnopharmacology, vol. 115, p. 361–380, 2008.

[8] K. Jones, "Review of sangre de drago (Croton lechleri)--a South American tree sap in the treatment of diarrhea, inflammation, insect bites, viral infections, and wounds: traditional uses to clinical research," Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, vol. 9, no. 6, p. 877–896, 2003.

[9] M. Lopes, J. Saffi, S. Echeverrigaray, J. Henriques and M. Salvador, "Mutagenic and antioxidant activities of Croton lechleri sap in biological systems," Journal of Ethnopharmacology, vol. 95, no. 2–3, p. 437–445, 2004.

[10] W. N. Setzer, S. L. Stokes, A. Bansal, et al., "Chemical composition and cruzain inhibitory activity of Croton draco bark essential oil from Monteverde, Costa Rica," Natural Product Communications, vol. 2, no. 6, p. 685–689, 2007.

[11] Y. Cai, F. Evans, M. Roberts, et al., "Polyphenolic compounds from Croton lechleri," Phytochemistry, vol. 30, no. 6, p. 2033–2040, 1991.

[12] C. Desmarchelier, F. Witting Schaus, J. Coussio and G. Cicca, "Effects of sangre de drago from Croton lechleri Muell.-Arg. on the production of active oxygen radicals," Journal of Ethnopharmacology, vol. 58, no. 2, p. 103–108, 1997.

[13] D. Rossi, R. Bruni, N. Bianchi, et al., "Evaluation of the mutagenic, antimutagenic and antiproliferative potential of Croton lechleri (Muell. Arg.) latex," Phytomedicine, vol. 10, no. 2–3, p. 139–144, 2003.

[14] Z. Chen, Y. Cai and J. Phillipson, "Studies on the anti-tumour, anti-bacterial, and wound-healing properties of dragon's blood," Planta Medica, vol. 60, no. 6, p. 541–545, 1994.

[15] R. Ubillas, S. Jolad, R. Bruening, M. Kernan, et al., "SP-303, an antiviral oligomeric proanthocyanidin from the latex of Croton lechleri (Sangre de Drago)," Phytomedicine, vol. 1, no. 2, p. 77–106, 1994.

[16] E. Risco, F. Ghia, R. Vila, J. Iglesias, E. Alvarez and S. Cañigueral, "Immunomodulatory activity and chemical characterisation of sangre de drago (dragon's blood) from Croton lechleri," Planta Medica, vol. 69, no. 9, p. 785–794, 2003.

[17] M. McGrath, A. Eakin, J. Engel, J. McKerrow, et al., "The crystal structure of cruzain: a therapeutic target for Chagas' disease," Journal of Molecular Biology, vol. 247, no. 2, p. 251–259, 1995.

Article researched and created by Dan Albir for © 2018

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