by David Bunting
Found in medicine cabinets and herb markets throughout much of South America, Dragon's Blood is as important as it is common in Latin American folk medicine. The name of this popular remedy is, of course, somewhat of a misnomer. While Dragon's Blood is viscous and blood-red, it is the pure exuded sap of a tropical tree rather than the blood of an exsanguinated mythical creature. Of course, seeing a tree "bleed" red sap is mythic in its own right.
Known in Spanish as "Sangre de Drago," the name may be literally translated as "blood of the dragon tree" as well as the more familiar "dragon's blood." Medicinal red latex is derived from a number of new world trees in the genus Croton, widely distributed in South America and reported as far north as Mexico. The most well known source of Dragon's Blood and the species we use is Croton lechleri, ranging primarily from the rainforests and low mountains of Columbia and Ecuador to Bolivia. Our Dragon's Blood is sustainably harvested in the Iquitos region of Amazonian Peru.
When the trunk of the Dragon's Blood tree is cut or injured, a thick, blood-red latex oozes from the wound. This pure sap, without any alcohol, additives or processing, constitutes the medicine known as Dragon's Blood. The cells that produce the latex are not regenerating, so Dragon's Blood trees cannot be tapped in the manner of rubber harvest. For continued harvest, the trees would instead require repeated cutting. The multiple cut method not only gives relatively low yields, but also can leave the trees susceptible to fungal diseases. This has led to the practice of harvesting the entire tree, which yields much higher levels of latex while impacting the least number of trees.
Significant efforts have been undertaken to promote Dragon's Blood conservation. To ensure the continued harvest of latex, local people engage in the wild planting of Dragon's Blood saplings.
Fortunately, the tree is also extremely fast growing. They can achieve phenomenal growth rates of up to 12 feet per year (yes, one foot per month!) during their first three years, when they reach their adult height. This is about the same time period that many temperate perennial herbs are grown before harvesting. The trees are allowed to grow for at least two and up to as many as seven years when they are harvested. Sustainable collection of Dragon's Blood sap, supported by extensive wild planting efforts, has provided indigenous communities with much needed income while supporting conservation.
Dragon's Blood latex is a rich, complex source of phyto-chemicals including alkaloids and procyanidins (condensed tannins). Internally, it is an important remedy for gastro-intestinal disorders, particularly ulcers and diarrhea, including traveler's diarrhea. Unlike some diarrhea treatments, Dragon's Blood does not reverse the condition to the point of constipation. It is also used traditionally to treat more severe gastrointestinal diseases such as dysentery and cholera. Traditional use for diarrhea and dysentery has led to the in-process development of an anti-secretory, anti- diarrheal drug based on an isolate from Dragon's Blood sap.
Externally, Dragon's Blood is renowned for its wound healing capability and is commonly applied as a liquid bandage. Drops are applied as needed to cover the affected area and allowed to dry with our without a bandage. Dragon's Blood accelerates the healing of open sores and wounds while helping to protect damaged skin from microbial infection. Its anti-inflammatory and antiviral activity make it an effective medicament for herpes blisters and sores in the mouth. A popular treatment for insect bites and stings, Dragon's Blood can relieve associated itching and irritation and can even alleviate the agonizing pain, itching and swelling resulting from fire ant attacks.
Today, modern scientific testing is confirming many of the ethnobotanical uses of Dragon's Blood, especially in treating various types of diarrhea and wound healing. It is important to emphasize, however, that this testing is only a confirmation of accumulated traditional knowledge. The true development of Dragon's Blood is credited to the indigenous healers of Amazonia who have generously shared their knowledge with the rest of the world. Herb Pharm is very excited to participate in bringing this product to the medicine cabinets of North America.