The Purging croton (Croton tiglium L., 1753) is a shrub species belonging to the Euphorbiaceae family.
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
Species C. tiglium.
The terms are synonyms:
– Alchornea vaniotii H.Lév.;
– Croton acutus Thunb.;
– Croton acutus Thunb. ex Murray;
– Croton arboreus Shecut;
– Croton birmanicus Müll.Arg.;
– Croton camaza Perr.;
– Croton himalaicus D.G.Long;
– Croton jamalgota Buch.-Ham.;
– Croton muricatus Blanco;
– Croton officinalis (Klotzsch) Alston;
– Croton pavana Buch.-Ham.;
– Croton tiglium var. globosus J.J.Sm.;
– Croton tiglium var. tiglium;
– Croton tiglium var. xiaopadou Y.T.Chang & S.Z.Huang;
– Croton xiaopadou H.S.Kiu;
– Halecus verus Raf.;
– Kurkas tiglium (L.) Raf.;
– Oxydectes birmanica (Müll.Arg.) Kuntze;
– Oxydectes blancoana Kuntze;
– Oxydectes pavana (Buch.-Ham.) Kuntze;
– Oxydectes tiglium (L.) Kuntze;
– Tiglium officinale Klotzsch.
The term Croton comes from the Greek κροτων croton mint, but also castor whose seeds resemble ticks in shape and color.
The specific tiglium epithet is of uncertain origin. According to some authors it could derive from the traditional name given by pharmacists to the seeds of the Croton plant. According to one suggestion, it may derive from the Greek tiglos, diarrhea. According to another, it may refer to one of the Maluku Islands in Indonesia, apparently the species’ home habitat.
Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
Croton tiglium is a plant native to the tropical regions of Asia and in particular to East Asia. it is most common in India, China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.
Its habitat is montane areas with sparse forested, calcareous shrublands, at elevations of 300 – 700 meters in southern China but can be found elsewhere, in a wide variety of vegetation and soil types at elevations up to 1,500 metres.
Croton tiglium is a plant that grows as a shrub or small tree in tropical and subtropical regions.
It can reach 2-3 meters in height but plants up to 7 meters in height are found in nature.
The stem is starry and hairy when young, green in colour, glabrous when ripe.
The leaves are alternate, with ovate-elliptic lamina, 9.5-13.5 x 5-7.5 cm, papery, glabrous, with serulated or sub-entire margins, with small glands, rounded base, with 2 distinct glands, acuminate apex, with 3 basal veins, petiolate, 3,8- 5,3 cm long and about 0,1 cm in diameter; mature leaves turn red.
The flowers are terminal and axillary; the male ones are 0.7 x 0.7 cm, pedicels, about 0.6 cm long and 0.1 cm in diameter; they have 5 sepals, yellowish in colour, 0,4 cm long; there are 5 petals, white in colour, membranous, pubescent, 0,2 cm long; stamens 14-15 with 0,35 cm long filament; bilobed anther about 0.08 x 0.08 cm; female flowers about 0.9 x 0.9 cm, pedicels about 0.5 cm long, calyx 5, green, 0.5 cm long; ovary hairy at the base, 0.4 x 0.25 cm ; number 3 styles, rarely 4, bipartite, horizontal, connate at the base, 0,3-0,4 cm long.
The fruits are three-lobed, subglobose, glabrous, of about 2,3 x about 1,6 cm, pedicels about 0,8 cm long, of 0,1 cm of diameter.
The seeds are ovate, subglobose, 1.1 x 0.7 cm, smooth, brown when ripe.
Croton tiglium is an evergreen shrub or small tree that has a very long history of herbal use, being employed as a potent laxative and as an oil to treat a wide range of skin problems.
It has been cultivated for these uses for more than 2,000 years and is still often grown today.
The plant is sometimes also cultivated as an ornamental even in the form of a hedge.
It is a plant of lowland tropical and subtropical areas; it tolerates an annual rainfall of 600 – 1,200 mm and an annual temperature between 21 and 27.5 °C.
From a pedological point of view, it grows in soils with a pH between 4.5 and 7.5, which are also very poor in nutritional elements.
Plants begin flowering after about 18 months; seed yield in the third year can be 200 – 750 kg seed/Ha.
By the sixth year the plants have reached full production and yields are 750 – 1,000, occasionally up to 2,000 kg/Ha.
Propagation is mainly by seed.
Customs and Traditions –
Croton tiglium is a poisonous plant in all its parts and falls into the category of vegetable irritant poisons. Its fruits are poisonous and the natives have long used them for hunting and fishing.
This plant was first mentioned in European literature by Cristóvão da Costa in 1578 as Pavanae lignum. From its seeds Croton oil is extracted, used in medicinal herbs as a violent purgative. Today it is considered dangerous and is no longer found in the pharmacopoeias of many countries.
The main substances contained in this plant are: glyceryl crotonate, crotonic acid, crotonic resin and phorbol esters, phorbol formate, phorbol butyrate and phorbol crotonate.
Croton tiglium is one of the 50 fundamental herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine, where it has the name bā dòu (Chinese: 巴豆); it is known as japaala/ජාපාල or jayapala in Sinhala and used in the traditional Sinhala medical system of Sri Lanka and in Sanskrit. The seeds are called jamālgoṭa in Hindi, Marathi and Urdu and are well known for their toxicity (severe purgative effect). They are used to treat constipation after the seeds have undergone a traditional Ayurvedic detoxification process with cow’s milk (godugdha). This is referred to as Śodhana, a general term for detoxification. The plant is poisonous, with the bark used as poison for arrows and the seeds used to poison fish.
The roots, seeds and seed oil are all traded locally in India and Southeast Asia, and the oil is exported to Europe.
The seeds are known to be very poisonous and are used, as mentioned, as fish poison or for criminal purposes: four seeds can be a lethal dose for an adult human being.
The toxic principles are crotonol, an extremely vesicant resin, and crotin, a delayed action poison which causes blood clotting. Symptoms of croton oil poisoning are first pain in the back of the throat, then in the anus. A dose of bismuth is an immediate antidote.
Croton oil, obtained from the seed, is strongly irritating; contact with skin causes inflammation and edema.
Croton tiglium poisoning is traditionally treated with a decoction of Coptis teeta and green beans.
Several esters of the phorbol diterpene have been isolated from croton resin. Some of these have shown antileukemic activity but, in general, these phorbol esters as found in Croton tiglium and many other Croton species are extremely irritating and also tumor promoters. Their presence in Croton tiglium and Croton flavens are sometimes held responsible for some forms of nasopharyngeal cancer as they are capable of activating Epstein-Barr viruses.
Croton tiglium seed oil is commonly used in laboratories around the world for its blistering properties. The phorbol esters isolated from the oil also have interesting tumor-promoting or tumor-inhibiting properties, and although much research has been done, more information is needed to clarify their future potential. Since the other parts of the plant are also poisonous, their chemistry and pharmacology may be worth investigating. In China, a large number of pharmaceutical applications are patented using Croton tiglium.
Extensive ongoing research may lead to new developments elsewhere as well.
Only the seeds were chemically analyzed in detail. They contain 30 to 45% of a fixed oil called croton oil and about 20% protein. The composition of the oil varies according to the extraction method. The oil comprises the fatty acids oleic acid 37%, linoleic acid 19%, myristic acid 7.5%, arachidic acid 1.5%, palmitic acid 1%, formic acid 1%, acetic acid 0.5%, stearic acid 0.5% and small amounts of butyric acid, lauric acid, tiglic acid and valeric acid. The oil also contains a group of proteins known as “crotin”, about 3.5% croton resin (crotonol), a glucoside called crotonoside (isoguanosine) and a non-volatile unsaturated fatty acid responsible for the purgatives.
Crotin is a mixture of the toxic proteins croton globulin and croton albumin. It has haemolytic and blood coagulant properties with delayed poisonous effect. In humans, the erythrocytes are simply deformed and rapid antibody formation is induced.
The blistering and irritating properties of seed oil are mainly due to croton resin, which contains esters of long-chain fatty acids, and the diterpene phorbol.
These phorbol esters also show paradoxical biological activities, some strongly co-carcinogenic, others with antitumor activity.
The seed and seed oil have long been used in tropical Asia as a strong purgative, cathartic, and poison.
Croton oil is one of the strongest laxatives, but it has become obsolete due to its toxicity and co-carcinogenic properties. Even in the past it was prescribed only in case of particularly persistent constipation.
In Malaysia a seed is eaten as a purgative by adults and coconut milk is drunk to stop the effect.
The seed oil was previously included in several pharmacopoeias as a purgative, but as the oil is not stable, it has proven to be unreliable and has therefore been excluded.
The oil, as mentioned, is a strong vesicant but diluted it can be used as a counter irritant for various skin conditions.
The seed oil and bark were widely used in folk medicine as a remedy for cancerous sores and tumors, pustules, colds, dysentery, fever, paralysis, scabies, schistosomiasis, snakebites, sore throats, and toothaches.
The pulverized seeds mixed with dates are consumed as a purgative.
The root is used as an abortifacient and purgative.
An infusion of the leaves is used to treat infections.
The leaves are used as a poultice to treat snake bites.
In homeopathy, Croton tiglium is prescribed in cases of acute gastroenteritis with watery stools as well as in cases of acute vesicular eczema, especially of the genitals.
In the United States, an emulsion of croton oil with phenol and a cleanser is used in plastic surgery for a skin peeling method.
The seed oil can be used in soap and candle making. However, it can only be used outdoors for lighting as the smoke is toxic.
An extract of the seed can be used as an insecticide for field application and in stored cereals and legumes.
Aqueous extracts of latex and stem bark have shown molluscicidal activity against the freshwater snails Lymnaea acuminata and Indoplanorbis exustus; in high doses these extracts were lethal even for the freshwater fish Channa punctatus.
The oil is a banned substance in commercial cosmetics.
Other uses include agroforestry. The plants are grown as a monoculture or in intercropping with cocoa or coffee, providing some shade.
The plant has some potential in suppressing the very invasive Lalang weed (Imperata cylindrica (L.) Raeusch.).
Ecologically Croton tiglium has a very wide distribution, a large population, is not currently experiencing major threats, and no significant future threats have been identified. The plant is therefore classified as “Least Concern” in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (2019).
Method of Preparation –
Croton tiglium is a plant with a series of historical uses, especially in populations where the plant also grew spontaneously.
The seeds are harvested when the fruit is ripe but its pericarp has not yet opened. After drying, the fruit is threshed to release the seeds.
No edible uses are known
In medicinal use, however, extreme caution should be exercised in view of its extreme toxicity.
The pulverized seeds mixed with dates are consumed as a purgative.
We have seen that the root is used as an abortifacient and purgative.
Infusions are prepared to cure some infections.
The leaves are applied as a poultice against snake bites.
This plant is also used in homeopathy.
The seed oil can be used in soap and candle making.
The seeds of Croton tiglium can be used as an insecticide both in the field and in stored products.
Traditional applications are due to its molluscicide activity and against the freshwater fish Channa punctatus.
– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– GBIF, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.
– Useful Tropical Plants Database.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (ed.), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora of Italy, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Lord’s Pharmacy, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore.
Attention: The pharmaceutical applications and alimurgical uses are indicated for informational purposes only, they do not in any way represent a medical prescription; we therefore decline all responsibility for their use for curative, aesthetic or food purposes.