In the Amazon jungle, when someone gets a cut, scrape or insect bite or sting, you will sometimes see him or her making a cut in the bark of a tree with a machete to release a small stream of deep red sap. When rubbed on the affected area of the skin, this medicine, known as Sangre de Drago or Sangre de Grado (dragon’s blood), is an amazingly effective means of stopping bleeding, muting pain, and disinfecting wounds.
Along with cuts, bites, and stings, dragon’s blood treats burns, rashes, sores, hemorrhages, and all kinds of abrasions. Something of a miracle cure, it is also used as an antifungal agent and as a remedy for fractures, ulcers, gastrointestinal disorders, cancer, tumors, rheumatism, hemorrhoids, respiratory viruses, staph infection, menstrual irregularities, and blood circulation dysfunctions.
While the resins of various plant species belonging to the genera Dracaena, Daemonorops, Calamus rotang and Pterocarpus have all been referred to as dragon’s blood, the nontoxic form generally comes from trees belonging to the plant genus Croton. This medicine can be found in at least seven species of Croton in Peru, Ecuador, and Brazil, but all of these plants are often called Croton lechleri for the sake of convenience.
As Albany Medical Center’s Mark J. S. Miller, PhD, MBA, FACN, CNS explains, the resin from the dragon’s blood tree stiffens after it is applied to an injury. “It looks like a scab,” he notes. “People think it’s your own blood, but it’s actually the dragon’s blood.”
In a study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology in 2000, Dr. Miller conducted a three-month clinical trial in which 10 Louisiana pest control workers treated their wounds, insect bites, and stings with either a beeswax and cocoa butter-based Sangre de Grado balm or a placebo. “It was universal that they preferred [the dragon’s blood] over the placebo,” Miller states. “They reported alleviation of all sorts of pain and itch in less than two minutes, which is traditional.”
Dragon’s blood stops pain and itching by preventing the nerves from carrying certain signals to the brain. Dr. Miller calls the medicine a “classic thermal analgesic” in that it is not an anesthetic, but it reduces sensitivity to pain by acting on membrane proteins called TRP (transient receptor potential) channels. He illustrates this by referencing two different plants that act on TRP channels: menthol, the ingredient in mint leaves that produces a cooling sensation when it makes contact with the skin, and capsaicin, the agonist in chili peppers that triggers the sensation of heat in skin receptors.
Increased sensitivity to pain in response to heat is known as thermal hyperalgesia. “The best way to explain that is that if you were sunburnt, and you went and had a hot shower, it would be painful, but if you weren’t sunburned and you had shower, it would be lovely,” Dr. Miller offers. “What dragon’s blood does is completely shut that down. So it’s quite brilliant for burns.”
Dragon’s blood is rich in protective antioxidant phenols and anti-inflammatory compounds that help reduce redness and swelling. When applied to the skin, the quick-drying sap forms a barrier that is said to simultaneously protect and rejuvenate the skin. For this reason, some cosmetic companies have begun using it in skin creams.
One of the primary anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and anti-tumorous alkaloids in dragon’s blood is taspine, which helps facilitate healing through the formation of scar tissue. In the mid-’90s, this was demonstrated by a group of Belgian researchers who found that skin wounds treated with this medicine healed four times faster than wounds treated with a single chemical that had been isolated from the resin and 10 to 20 times faster than wounds that went untreated.
Another of the key antiviral components of dragon’s blood, a proanthocyanidin oligomer called SP-303, has been shown to fight hepatitis A and B viruses, respiratory syncytial virus, influenza A virus, parainfluenza virus, and herpes viruses 1 and 2. It is particularly useful in treating HSV-1, the herpes virus that causes cold sores: when one applies the medicine soon after he or she begins to feel the tingle that precedes a cold sore eruption, it is said to prevent the herpes virus from forming a sore.
According to Dr. Miller, when ingested in small amounts (generally a few drops), dragon’s blood is also “ridiculously potent for a variety of conditions in the GI [gastrointestinal] tract,” including diarrhea. After SP-303 was demonstrated to be useful in treating diarrhea in AIDS patients, the Croton lechleri extract became the first and only oral botanical to be approved as a drug in the United States by the FDA.
As shown in a study that Miller conducted in the late 2000s, dragon’s blood is also incredibly effective in alleviating post-operative emesis (the nausea and vomiting that can accompany the administration of opioid narcotics after surgery). After duplicating those symptoms in adult ferrets, Dr. Miller and his colleagues found that dragon’s blood reduced morphine-induced vomiting and retching by 77 percent.
Miller says that the anti-emetic properties of dragon’s blood are superior to those of THC, because whereas the latter medicine reduces the production of gastric acids by acting on the cannabinoid receptors in the digestive tract, dragon’s blood works on the peripheral nervous system. “It blocks the traffic along the nerves from the periphery either for the stomach or skin,” Miller notes. He adds that the sap did not induce any side effects in the ferrets used in the study on post-operative emesis. “There was no lowering of the body temperature, which occurs with THC, and there was no sedation,” he states.
Dr. Miller also had astonishing success in using dragon’s blood to reduce the size and bacteria content of stomach ulcers in rats. In so doing, he and his associates found that the resin significantly inhibits the production of myeloperoxidase, an enzyme associated with inflammation and cardiovascular disease.
According to Miller, dragon’s blood has been found to work better as an antibacterial agent than antibiotics. “Just like in the skin, if you have an ulcer that’s infected and that retards healing, if you take antibiotics, you can promote healing,” he notes. “[In the study of stomach ulcers,] Sangre de Grado produced a faster, cleaner, better healing than the antibiotics.”
In a different study, Miller and his colleagues found that dragon’s blood is extremely effective in killing Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria that causes stomach ulcers and stomach cancer. H. pylori, as it is often called, is the only bacteria that the World Health Organization has classified as a carcinogen.
Miller has also taken part in research that showed dragon’s blood can induce apoptosis in human gastrointestinal cancer cells. More recently, the sap and its extract were found to inhibit melanoma and colon cancer. Dr. Miller notes, “I use it when I have skin cancers removed. It promotes healing, and then if there are any little nasty cancer cells left, I have this idea that I’m killing them as well.”
Numerous studies have also found that dragon’s blood protects against radiation. The resin also shows promise as a remedy for diabetes and various neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Impressive as all these study results may be, they still do not cover the full extent of the curative capacities of dragon’s blood. A list of more than 50 clinical studies of this medicine’s curative properties can be found here.