Some 750 shrubs, trees, and perennials are including in this genus, distributed worldwide in tropical and subtropical regions. The genus is extremely complex chemically and yields a number of highly toxic compounds. Croton tiglium is found in mixed forest in Asia; it is an unpleasant-smelling, very poisonous plant. Croton, is from the Greek kroton, "a tick", which refers to the appearance of the ovoid light brown seeds. The ornamental foliage plants that are commonly known as "crotons" belong to the genus Codiaeum and do not have the same properties as Croton. Many Croton species contain resins that are used in making varnishes, and have medicinal properties. Apart from C. tiglium, the only species with wide usage is the W. Indian C. eleuteria (cascarilla), which has aromatic bark, used in remedies for digestive upsets and to flavor tobacco. Other species are used locally, including C. gratissimus (lavender croton, maquassie), which has a buchu-like perfume and is used in South Africa to make a substitute for lavender water. Medicinally, the bark is used to treat fevers and various other complaints, and leaf infusions are taken for coughs. In Australia, C. insularis (Queensland cascarilla, warrel) and C. phleboides (native cascarilla) are used as bitter tonics.

Evergreen tree, with ovate, pointed, metallic green to bronze leaves, to 17cm (7in) long. Tiny yellow-green flowers appear in racemes in spring, males at the top and females at the base, followed by fruits containing a single large seed.

Common Name:
Botanical Name:
Croton tiglium
Native Location:
India to Malaysia
Damp soil in partial shade. Cut back in early spring to control growth.
By seed sown in spring
Seeds are collected when ripe and used whole or crushed for oil extraction or use in pills.
5-20m (15-70ft)
12m (40ft)
Min. 15°C (59°F)
Parts Used:
Seeds (ba dou), oil.
A pungent, unpleasant-smelling herb that is exceeding irritant and purgative. Croton oil is the strongest of all purgatives.
Medicinal Uses:
Internally, in minute amounts, for constipation, dysentery, biliary colic, intestinal obstructions, food poisoning, malaria, and mastitis. Externally for warts, dermatitis, abscesses, and boils, (seeds, often after oil extraction to reduce toxicity). Croton oil is carcinogenic; excess causes shock (1ml can be fatal) and skin contact with it should be avoided. Side-effects include blistering of skin and mucous membranes, edema, hypotension, and abdominal pain.
Subject to legal restrictions in some countries.
Encyclopedia of Herbs by Deni Brown Copyright © 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited Pg 184