Croton tiglium L.
Purging croton, Physic-nut, Croton-oil plant
Source: James A. Duke. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops. unpublished.
- Folk Medicine
- Yields and Economics
- Biotic Factors
Studying insecticidal activity of 20 plants to adult females of Uroleuron
cathami, Deshmukn and Borle (1975) reported the petroleum ether extracts of
purging croton seeds to be most effective (0.125% as toxic as nicotine
sulfate). Hager's Handbuch (List and Horhammer, 1969-1979) says it is more
effective than Derris extract. Himalaya tribes use the bark in arrow poisons.
Bark has been used as a tannin source. Mashiguchi et al. (1977) report on the
molluscididal activity of the seed against Oncomelania quadrasi. It is
also used to poison fish. When Croton oil was evaluated for possible effects
on the P-388 lymphocytic leukemia in mice, significant inhibitory activity was
noted. Fractionation of the oil led to characterization of the major
component, the phorbol diester, phorbol 12-tiglate 13-decanoate which exhibits
significant inhibitory activity at dosages of 60-250 ug per kg body weight
against P-388. There is a paradoxical similarity in structure between the
cocarcinogenic and antileukemic principles of the Euphorbiaceae and the
Thymelaeaceae (Kupchan et al., 1976). Croton oil, a fixed oil expressed from
seeds by methods similar to those used to obtain castor oil, is used in human
and veterinary medicine as a cathartic, irritant, and rubefacient. Internally,
it is a drastic, very rapid purgative or cathartic; applied externally to the
skin, it is a powerful local irritant, causing pustular eruptions. When
diluted, oil is used as a counter-irritant, and is usually administered with
sugar and bread crumbs. In Malaysia, the oil is used more for illumination and
soapmaking than for medicine. According to the Wealth of India (C.S.I.R.
1948-1976), "Croton oil appears no longer any place in medical practice."
Crushed seeds and leaves, pulverized and put in sacks, are placed in ponds and
rivers to stupefy fish.
According to Hartwell (1967-1971), the seed oil and bark are used in folk
remedies for cancerous sores and tumors. Reported to be cathartic,
diaphoretic, ecbolic, emetic, emmenagogue, purgative, rubefacient, and
vesicant, purging croton is a folk remedy for apoplexy, cancer, carbuncles,
colds, dysentery, fever, flux, paralysis, ranula, scabies, schistosomiasis,
skin, snakebite, sore, throat, and toothache (Duke and Wain, 1981). Leaf
poulticed onto snakebite in Sumatra. Seed, POISONOUS, employed as purgative in
lead colic and cancer; recommended as a revulsive in colds and fever for
obstinate diarrhea and dysentery, delayed menstruation, edema, ranula,
apoplexy, paralysis, scabies, throat afflictions, toothache. Seed oil recently
used in schistosomiasis. Bruised root applied to cancerous sores and
carbuncles. Seeds contain one of the most purgative substances known; also
quite vesicant; once used as emmenagogue. Homeopathically used for
gastroenteritis, pustulose eczema, conjunctivitis, and mastitis. Here the
reader should be warned that homeopathic practitioners use some very poisonous
plants in very dilute concentrations. Like so many plants, this contains both
cancer-causing and cancer correcting compounds. According to Pettit (1977),
phorbol is the cocarcinogenic substance of Croton tiglium. For a man,
about four seeds, for a horse, about 15 seeds represent a lethal dose. On the
other hand, Pettit and Cragg (1978) list Phorbol 12-tiglate 13-decanoate as
active at doses of 60-250 ug/kg against the PS-tumor system (Duke and Ayensu,
1984). In Malaya a single kernel is eaten as a purgative; when purging has
gone far enough, coconut milk is drunk to stop it.
C.S.I.R. reports that the oil contains 3.4% toxic resin. Of the acids, 37.0%
is oleic, 19.0% linoleic, 1.5% arachidic, 0.3% stearic, 0.9% palmitic, 7.5%
myristic, 0.6% acetic, 0.8% formic, with traces of lauric, tiglic, valeric, and
butyric, plus some unidentified.
Small shrub or tree up to 12 m tall, evergreen; leaves alternate, membranous,
ovate with broadly rounded, sometimes slightly decurrent base, acuminate, acute
or blunt, very shallowly serrate, glabrous above, with few stellate hairs
beneath, 7.5-17 cm long, 4-9.5 cm broad, metallic green to bronze or orange;
petiole slender, about 4 cm long; stipules caducous, subulate, 1.5- 3.5 mm
long; axis of inflorescence glabrous; flowers small, inconspicuous; male
flowers stellately hairy with narrowly oblong petals and 15-20 stamens; female
flowers apetalous; capsule scabrid with stellate hairs, triangular, 15-20 mm
long, 10-15 mm broad, oblong or ellipsoid, 3-lobed; seeds 3 per fruit,
oblong-ovoid, orange, about 12 mm long, smooth, about 4160/kg. Fl. summer; fr.
Reported from the Hindustani Center of Diversity, purging croton or cvs thereof
is reported to tolerate drought, insects, and poor soil. (Duke, 1978). In
Java, two forms are distinguished: var. tiglium, with ovary and fruit
trigonous, and petals of female flower consisting of a glabrous stalked bud,
found in West Java; and var. globosus, with ovary subglobose,
subtrigonous, with petals linear and hairy at apex, found in East Java.
(2n = 10)
Native to tropical Asia from India to New Guinea and Java, north into Indonesia
and China. Wild throughout the Philippine Islands, where it is also cultivated
to a limited extent; often becoming naturalized after cultivation. Grown in
southern California and elsewhere as an ornamental and curious plant.
Ranging from Subtropical Moist to Tropical Very Dry throught Wet Forest Life
Zones, purging croton is reported to tolerate annual precipitation of 7.0 to
42.9 dm (mean of 8 cases = 20.6), annual temperature of 21.0 to 27.5°C (mean
of 8 cases = 25.3), and pH of 4 5 to 7.5 (mean of 6 cases = 6.1). (Duke, 1978,
1979) A dry land plant, adaptable to most tropical climates, up to 1,500 m
elevations, not particular as to soil type or texture. Often grown in mixed
forests, and commonly planted in and about towns.
Propagated from seed, the seed sown directly in the forest, or in seedbeds and
the young plants planted in desired places. It may be cultivated as a pure
crop or as an intercrop with cacao or coffee, providing some shade (Reed, 1976).
Plants begin bearing seed in 3 years after planting, and are full-bearing in 6
years. Seeds ripen in November and December, and should be collected before
Yields in the third year may be 200-750 kg seed/ha, but at full bearing
750-2,000 kg/ha, assuming the cwt/ha in our reference is a metric quintal
rather than 100 pounds. Otherwise, the yield reported by Duke (1978) may be
the high report at 900 kg seed/ha. Croton oil is produced in India and Europe,
with most of the commercial supply of seed being obtained from Sri Lanka and
India. Market value of seeds fluctuates considerably depending on demand.
United States imports ca 1.5 MT/a oil from Germany and United Kingdom. Export
of seeds from Sri Lanka in 1933 was 73,150 cwt.
If seed yields of 900 kg/ha are all that can be expected, this does not seem a
promising energy species, especially if it can only be used outdoors.
According to Burkill, "the fumes of burning oil indoors are intolerable."
Plants are attacked by the following fungi: Cercospora tiglii, Fomes
lignosus, Macrophomina phaseoli, Placosphaeria tiglii, and Polyporus
hirsutus. They are also attacked by root knot nematodes: Meloidogyne
acronea, M. arenaria thamesi, M. hapla, M. incognita acrita, and M.
javanica. Trees sometimes attacked by caterpillar, Amyna punctum.
Complete list of references for Duke, Handbook of Energy Crops
C.S.I.R. (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research). 1948-1976. The wealth
of India. 11 vols. New Delhi.
Deshmukh, S.D. and Borle, M.N. 1975. Studies on the insecticidal properties of
indigenous plant products. Indian J. Entomology 37(1):11-18 (publ. 1976).
Duke, J.A. 1978. The quest for tolerant germplasm. p. 1-61. In: ASA Special
Symposium 32, Crop tolerance to suboptimal land conditions. Am. Soc. Agron.
Duke, J.A. 1979. Ecosystematic data on economic plants. Quart. J. Crude Drug
Duke, J.A. and Ayensu, E.S. 1985. Medicinal plants of China. Reference
Publications, Inc. Algonac, MI.
Duke, J.A. and Wain, K.K. 1981. Medicinal plants of the world. Computer index
with more than 85,000 entries. 3 vols.
Hartwell, J.L. 1967-1971. Plants used against cancer. A survey. Lloydia 30-34.
Kupchan, S.M., Uchida, I., Branfman, A.R., Dailey, R.C., Jr., and Fei, B.Y.
1976. Antileukemic principles isolated from euphorbiaceae plants. Science
List, P.H. and Horhammer, L. 1969-1979. Hager's handbuch der pharmazeutischen
praxis. vols 2-6. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.
Mashiguchi, J., Yasuraoka, K., Tanaka, H., Santos, A.T., Jr., and Bias, B.L.
1977. Molluscicidal activity of the seed of Tuba Croton tiglium against
Oncomelania quadras. (Jap.) Jap. J. Parasitology 26(5)Sullp.:37-38.
Pettit, G.R. 1977. Biosynthetic products for cancer chemotherapy. vol. 1.
Plenum Press. New York.
Pettit, G.R. and Cragg, G.M. 1978. Biosynthetic products for cancer
chemotherapy. vol. 2. Plenum Press. New York.
Reed, C.F. 1976. Information summaries on 1000 economic plants. Typescripts
submitted to the USDA.
last update July 8, 1996