Malaria and Dragon Trees

The Afromontane Dragon Tree (Dracaena afromontana) is appears as a shrub to a tree, reaching heights of 2 to 12 meters. This species of Dragon Tree grows in dense moist deciduous and evergreen rain- or bamboo forest throughout Eastern and Central Africa. Its simple leaves are whorled and may reach 30 centimeters in length. The white flowers are panicles up to 30 centimeters long. It produces fruit in the form of orange berries.
The Afromontane Dragon Tree can be found, as its name implies, in mountainous areas, mostly at altitudes over 1,500 meters. Start looking for them above altitudes of 500 meters and stop looking for them above 3200 meters.

The Afromontane Dragon Tree is used to mark field boundaries and graves. It is therefore also found in cultivated and managed habitats throughout Ethiopia and Tanzania. The roots and bark of the Afromontane Dragon Tree are still used as medicine for treating chest pains and rheumatism in Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda.

Other uses include liver disease and the treatment of malaria: you crush the stem or leaves, mix with some water, sieve it and drink it three times a day; you can also peel the roots, dry them, pound them to make powder and drink with water.

Some scientific research has been done regarding the effects of Dracaenas on the malarial parasite, Plasmodium falciparum. A Thai study found that an extract of a species of Dracaena 'showed high selective antimalarial activity'[1][2]. While I am not claiming that Dragon Trees could one day become a replacement for quinine, the genus certainly merits some thorough scientific research.

[1] Thiengsusuk et al: Antimalarial activities of medicinal plants and herbal formulations used in Thai traditional medicine in Parasitology Research – 2013
[2] Sumsakul et al: Inhibitory Activities of Thai Medicinal Plants with Promising Activities Against Malaria and Cholangiocarcinoma on Human Cytochrome P450 in Phytotherapy Research - 2015

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