Saturday, 5 March 2011

Self-Study - Dragon's Blood Resin

During our last class, an intruigingly named resin was mentioned, and purely, due to its name, I wanted to do a profile for it.

Dragon's Blood Resin

Dragon's blood is a bright red resin that is obtained from different species of a number of distinct plant genera: Croton, Dracaena, Daemonorops, Calamus rotang and Pterocarpus.

However, the most common species to obtain the resin from is Dracaena cinnabari, otherwise known as the Dragon's Blood Tree.

The Dracaena cinnabari grows in the mountaintops of the Socotra Archipelago, which is a group of four remote islands located in the Indian Ocean south of the Arabian Peninsula. The distinctive shape the botanical has evolved is crucial to its survival, the Socotra is a hot, desert island with an especially tough dry season and very little rainfall. The water droplets carried along on the occasional "morning mist" accumulate readily on the tree's long waxy leaves, and due to the tree's ingenuious shape, it is efficient at transporting the water to the roots.

In the 15th century, voyagers to the Canary Islands obtained Dragon's Blood as dried garnet-red drops from Dracaena draco, a tree native to the Canary Islands and Morocco. Clearly a family relative of D. cinnabari, it displays almost identical morphology.

A great degree of confusion existed for the ancient's in regard to the source and identity of Dragon's Blood. The resin of Dracaena species, is the "true" Dragon's Blood, and the very poisonous mineral cinnabar (mercury sulfide) were often confused by the ancient Roman's. In ancient China, little or no distinction was made among the types of Dragon's Blood from the different species, even today resin's from both Dracaena and Daemonorops are often marketed as "Dragon's Blood" with little or no distinction made between the plant sources.

Dragon's Blood is the latex (tears), which form when the bark of the tree is cut or scored. This dark sap is collected and is then marketed under the name "Dragon's Blood".
The Dragon's Blood Tree is covered in, what appear to be, "scales", as it grows similar to a palm tree. The resinous substance appears to "bleed" from between the scales, which looks similar to blood seeping out of a cut (or a scaly dragon's hide).

Dragon's Blood resin is very brittle and breaks with an irregular, resinous fracture. It is bright to dark red and glossy inside, and a darker red sometimes powdered with crimson externally. Small, thin pieces can be almost transparent.

History & Folklore

Dragon's Blood has a long history, however is neglected more-so in modern day medicines.

Dragon's Blood incense is traditionally used in Indian ceremonies to get rid of negative energies and spirits, it is regarded as having cleansing properties. It's strong herbal, yet spicy fragrance, is also said to be calming and some believe it has aphrodisiacal properties too, especially if you leave a piece under your mattress.

As well as for burning, the resin has gained other uses throughout history. In the 18th Century, Italain violin-makers are said to have used it as a source of varnish for their instruments. While the Greeks and Roman's regarded it as having medicinal properties. The warriors in anicent China used to carry it with them when going into battle, if they were wounded they used the resin to stop their wounds bleeding so much. There was also an 18th century recipe for toothpaste that contained Dragon's Blood.

Dragon's Blood was also used in China as a red varnish for wooden furniture, and was used to colour the surface of writing paper for banners and posters, used especially for weddings and for Chinese New Year.

In American Hoodoo, African-American folk magic, and New Orleans voodoo, Dragon's Blood resin is seen as both a lucky curio and an incense for warding off evil and bring food luck in money and love. Powdered Dragon's Blood may be burned on charcoal, and folks claim that this "cleanses the home" and rids the premises of evil. It is said to be particularly good when moving into a new house, and it may be mixed with Camphor resin for this purpose. Dragon's Blood powder is also used by women who wish to receive an offer of marriage. They write their lover's name on a small square of brown paper, cross it with their own name, fold Dragon's Blood powder into the name-paper, and throw the packet onto glowing charcoal.
The resin is also added to red ink to create "Dragon's Blood Ink", which is used to inscribe magical seals and talismans.

In folk medicine, Dragon's Blood is used externally as a wash to promote healing of wounds and to stop bleeding. It is used internally for chest pains, post-partum bleeding, internal traumas and menstrual irregularities.

In neopagan Witchcraft, it is used to increase the potency of spells for protection, love, banishing and sexuality. In New Age shamanism it is used in ceremonies in a similar way as the neopagans used it.


Dragon's Blood was well-known by the ancient Roman's, and has mention in the 1st Century Periplus as one of the products of Socotra. Socotra had been an important trading centre since, at least, the time of the Ptolemies.
Dragon's Blood was used as a dye and medicine (respiratory and gastrointestinal problems) in the Mediterranean basin, and wass held by the early Greek's, Roman's and Arab's to have medicinal properties. Dioscorides and other early Greek writers described its medicinal uses.

Locals of Moomy city on Socotra island use the Dracaena resin as a sort of cure-all, using it for such things as general wound healing, a coagulant (though this is ill-advised with commercial products, as the Daemonorops species acts as an anti-coagulant and it is usually unknown what species the Dragon's Blood came from), curing diarrhoea, lowering fevers, dysnetery diseases, taken internally for ulcers in the mouth, throat, intestines and stomach, as well as an anti-viral for respiratory viruses, stomach viruses and for such skin disorders as eczema. It was also used in medieval ritual magic and alchemy.

Dragon's Blood is still used as a varnish for violins, in photoengraving, as an incense resin, and as a body oil. The incense is sometimes sold as "red rock opium" to unsuspecting would-be drug buyers. It actually contains no opiates, and has only slight psychoactive effects, if any at all. There was a recent study as to why, in Virginia, Dragon's Blood incense was being used in conjunction with marijuana. After several lab tests it was determined that the abuse potential for Dragon's Blood incense alone or in combination with marijuana is minimal. The reasoning behind Dragon's Blood being sold as a "drug" is not clear, as the resin clearly has very little to no side drug-like effects if smoked or ingested.


Several analyses of Dragon's Blood have been made. The active ingredient that most people focus on is the Taspine contained in the sap, however, Dragon's Blood contains a host of other ingredients, with Taspine actually being one of the minor ingredients.

An interesting point to note is that one of the other ingredients, SP-303, is under clinical investigation for its use in herpes lesions and a patent has been filled for this particular compound.

The list of compounds found in Dragon's Blood is rather impressive, it includes the following:
  • Alpha-calacorene
  • Alpha-copaene
  • Alpha-pinene
  • Alpha-thujene
  • Benzoic
  • Benzoyl-acetic acid
  • Beta-caryophyllene
  • Beta-elemene
  • Beta-pinene
  • Betaine
  • Bincatriol
  • Borneol
  • Calamenene
  • Calcium oxalate
  • Calcium phosphate
  • Camphene
  • Catechins
  • Cedrucine
  • Crolechinic acid
  • Cuparophenol
  • D-limonene
  • Daucosterol
  • Dihydrobenzofuran
  • Dimethylcedrusine
  • Dipentene
  • Dracon alban
  • Dracoresene
  • Dracoresintotannol
  • Eugenol
  • Euparophenol
  • Gallocatechin
  • Gamma-terpinene
  • Gamma-terpineol
  • Hardwickiic acid
  • Isoboldine
  • Korberin A & B
  • Lignin
  • Linalool
  • Magnoflorine
  • Methylthymol
  • Myrcene
  • Norisoboldine
  • P-cymene
  • Proanthocyanidins
  • Procyanidins
  • Resin
  • Tannin
  • Taspine
  • Terpinen-4-ol
  • Vanillin
Dragon's Blood is not acted upon by water, but most of it is soluble in alcohol. It fuses by heat. The solution will stain marble a deep red, penetetrating in proportion to the heat of the stone.

Medicinal Action & Uses

The therapeutic properties of Dragon's Blood include:
  • Anesthetic
  • Anti-allergic
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antibacterial
  • Anti-dysenteric
  • Antifungal
  • Anti-hermorrhagic (reduces bleeding)
  • Anti-leukemia
  • Antioxidant
  • Antiseptic
  • Anti-tumor
  • Antiviral
  • Neurasthenic (reduces nerve pain)
  • Wound healing
  • Analgesic (pain-reliever)
  • Anti-cancerous
  • Anti-itch
  • Anti-ulcerous
  • Astringent
The above proves why Dragon's Blood is seen as a "wonder" ingredient in cosmetic products, especially those for skin problems e.g. acne. It has great anti-inflammatory qualities and has been proben to stimulate human skin fibroblast which in turn helps to heal the skin.

Historically, doses of 10 to 30 grains were formerly given as an astringent in diarrhoea etc, but officially it is never, at present, used internally, being regarded as inert.

The following treatment is said to have cured cases of severe syphilis: Mix 2 drachms (a drachm is a unit of apothecary weight equal to an eighth of an ounce or to 60 grains) of Dragon's Blood, 2 drachms of colocynth (a viny plant native to the Mediterranean Basin and Asia - also known as bitter apple, bitter cucumber, egusi or vine of Sodom), 1/2 oz. of gamboge (a gum resin used as a yellow pigment and a purgative) in a mortar, and add 3 gills (equal to 5 fluid ounces) of boiling water. Stir for an hour, while keeping hot. Allow to cool, and add, while stirring, a mixture of 2 oz. each of sweet spirits of nitre (KNO3 - potassium nitrate) and copaiba balsam (an oleoresin used in varnishes and ointments).

It appears that the usage of Dragon's Blood in remedies has fallen by the way-side over the years, despite being a highly regarded medicinal botanical during the time of the ancient Roman's and Greek's.



  1. Just a note, the resin you have pictured is Daemonorops draco, which is the only one readily available in commerce, though the trees you have pictured are Dracaena.

  2. This is a very good article, I have to recommend the plant extract , icariin, you may also need to understand what is icariin .

  3. Hi,

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  4. Does Dragon's Blood cause an allergic reaction in people who are allergic to latex (rubber)?

    1. That's what I was looking for! I think that people write latex when they mean the sap/resin of the tree but it doesn't say l a text in the constituents. I will keep searching anyway! Find a good herbalist source to find the answer.

    2. It is part of the Euphorbiaceae family and the sap is milky. It's called "Wolfsmilch" in german. There's 2000 species but only 500 produce rubber/latex like constituents and like 1-20% or so! Keep searching to find the truth ;-)!

  5. I'm having a heck of a time finding some resins including a source of dragon's blood with a named source tree. I can only find copaiba balsam in liquid form, and am finding copal labeled as copaiba, which I understand it is a form of, but the lack of reliable sources for resins in general is greatly frustrating to a kitchen witch just trying to help her family. Do you happen to have any suggestions as to where to find quality ingredients without having to mortgage the house? Thanks!