A Review on Sappan Wood - A Therapeutic  Dye Yielding  Tree


K. Mekala*, R. Radha

Department of Pharmacognosy, College of Pharmacy, Madras Medical College, Chennai – 600003

*Corresponding Author E-mail: mailmekala.r@gmail.com




The plant Caesalpinia sappan is a  small leguminous tree upto 10m in height belonging to the Caesalpiniaceae family,with an orange-red hard Heartwood with spiny trunk ,which besides being useful in turnery gives a red dye. It is commonly known as Brazil or Sappan wood, native to tropical Asia, also grown as a hedge plant. The plant is being used worldwide for a large number of traditional medicinal purposes including  anti-tumour,  anti-inflammatory, immunosuppressive, anti-diabetic, anti-allergic, cardioactive,  neurotoxicity, anti-bacterial, anti-acne , anemia, tuberculosis  and some other activities. The main active constituent is Brazilin, and together triterpenoids, flavanoids, lipids, steroids, aminoacids etc are found. Leaves yield volatile oil, 0.16 to 0.25%; pods contain 40% tannin; seeds yield 32.1% and 34.4% mucilage and straw –yellow , edible oil(7.5%) having a characteristic smell; roots contains caesalpin-type diterpenoids along with sitosterol.  In folklore medicine it is used as a herbal drinking water for its blood purifying, anti- thirst , anti-tumour and to improve complexion in Kerela. It has the potential to hit the market as a safe natural colouring agent with good medicinal value for pharmaceuticals, food products and beverages. The plant is one of the ingredients of an indigenous drug ‘Lukol’ which is administered orally for the treatment of non-specific leucorrhoea. The present article  summarizes  review on the plant, its phytochemistry and its pharmacological activity which have been reported.


KEYWORDS: Caesalpinia sappan, phytochemicals, Anti-tumour,  Immunosuppressive, Cardioactive.




Caesalpinia sappan with highly interesting biological effects and vast folklore uses is worth studying more that  might provide a rich natural resource of  lead compounds for drug development. This plant enjoys the open altitude of 1000m above sea level and grows well in mountaineous areas that are not too cold (Fig 1). It is cultivated wild in west Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, orissa, These plant belongs to family Caesalpiniaceae, shaped small tree, 5-10m high; 15-25cm diam, spiny trunk and branches rufous-pubescent, stem round brownish green colour (Fig 2).


Propagation by seed or stem cuttings. Leaves 20-38cm long, pinnae 8-12 pairs, 10-15cm. Long , subsessile, with small prickles at  the base. Leaflets 10-18pairs, subsessile, close, oblong, rounded at the apex, attached at the lower cornor, very in equilateral, glaborous above, more or less puberulous beneath (Fig 3)


Flowers in panicles, which are terminal and in the axils of the upper leaves, 30-40cm long; pedicles 1.3-1.5cm long, bracts lanceolate, 8mm long, caducous. Calyx 11mm, long , leathery, glaborous, corolla 2cm across; petals orbicular subequal, yellow, the upper with a red spot at the base, stamens delicate, waxy-white, filaments densely woolly at the base (Fig 3).Pods 7-10 by 3.8-5cm,woody, obliquely oblong, sub compressed, polished, indehiscent with a hard returned short beak at the upper angle of the obtuse apex (Fig 4) Seeds 3-4. wood has outer sapwood which is white pale buff colour and inner orange red heartwood(1-2) (Fig 5).  The wood was formely used in calico printing of cotton, wool and silk. It is now however now replaced by synthetic dyes3.



Fig 1 Caesalpinia sappan                                               

Fig 2 Spiny trunk

Fig 3  Leaves and Flowers         

Fig 4  Pods with Seeds                                      

Fig 5 Heartwood





Kingdom              :  Plantae

Sub kingdom       : Viridiplantae

Infra kingdom                    :Streptophyta

Super division                   : Embryophyta

Division              :Tracheophyta

Sub division        : Spermatophytina

Class                     :Magnoliopsida

Super order                        :Rosanae

Order                    :Fabales

Family                  :Caesalpiniaceae/Fabaceae

Genus                   :Caesalpinia  Linn.

Species                 :Caesalpinia sappan LinnSappan wood



A great deal of chemical investigation has been carried out in this plant and presence of compounds, viz: triterpenoids, flavanoids, steroids, oxygen heterocycles, and aminoacids has been reported in the heartwood and seeds of this plant3,5.  Brazilin, the main constituent of plant is oxidised to produce Brazilein by air and light3. Two new aromatic compounds structurally related to brazilin were isolated and identified from the heartwood of sappanwood. They possessed anti-hypercholesteremic activity6. The wood is reported to containing β-amyrin and glucose, and the free aminoacids: alanine, aspartic  acid, glycine, proline, valine, leucine, threonine; free sugars: lactose, galactose, sorbose, 4-methyl galactose, 3,4-dimethyl galactose;2-deoxyribose and glucose are also present7. The petroleum ether extract of the heartwood gave 1.15% of a fixed oil (sap val,204.2; and iod val, 28.8) having the following fatty acid composition: palmitic 27.6; stearic , 44.2; linoleic, 25.9; and oleic, 2.23%.The heartwood contains flavanoids and homoisoflavanoids. It also contains sappanol, episappanol, 3’-o-methylepisappanol, 3’-deoxysappanol, 3’-o-methyisappanol, 3’-o-methylbrazilin, 4-methylsappanol, quercetin, rhamnetin and ombuin is also reported7,8.  Two new phenolic compounds, epicaesalpin j and 7,10,11-trihydroxydracaenone, were isolated from the heartwood of sappan9. Tannin is found in the leaves 19%, bark 44%, and pods 40%. Leaves yield volatile oil, 0.16 to 0.25%; d-α-phellandrene, terpene and methyl alcohol10



There are innumerable traditional medicinal uses of this plant. The plant is one of the ingredients of an indegenous drug ‘Lukol’ which is administered orally for the treatment of non-specific leucorrhoea (post-I.U.D), and gave encouraging results for bleeding following I.U.D-insertion11.The decoction of the wood is considered as a powerful emmenagogue, astringent, sedative, stomachic, postpartum tonic, vulnery, tuberculosis, anemia, diuretic, used by women as tonic after confinement and also for vomiting of blood 12 in Ayurvedha and Unani. The wood is suitable for making cabinet-making, walking-sticks, and small ornamental turnery articles like dagger sheaths and hilts. Brazilin dye is reported to have anti-inflammatory activity13. The plant pigments find use in manufacture of facials which are resistant to light, heat and water, and non-irritating. The dyeing properties of wood is used in colouring food products, icecreams, bakery, confectionaries, beverages etc. The wood is the component of  vicco vajaradanti’TM a famous tooth powder and paste of  India. Its folkloric uses includes- in kerela , decoction of heartwood used  for blood purifying, anti-thirst, anti-diabetic, and to improve complexion. In Ayurveda, useful  in vitiated conditions of  Pitta, burning sensations, wounds, ulcers, leprosy, skin diseases, diarrhoea, dysentery, and diabetes. In Thailand , used for arthritis, cancer, and inflammatory complaints. In Indo-china, seeds used as stomachic.2




The methanolic extract of the heartwood showed anti inflammatory activity. The active constituent  Haematin isolated from the heartwood used in oriental medicine act both as an analgesic and anti inflammatory agent. In the test conducted for inhibition of hyaluronidase activity, among 130 herbal medicines , sappan Lignum one of the six acive plants, its methanol extract at 5mg/ml concenteration showed more than 50% inhibition of  hyaluronidase activity. Study evaluated the effects of an ethanolic extract on human chondrocytes and macrophages. Results showed an anti-inflammatory effect in an invitro cell model of joint inflammation14.


The anti cancer activity of brazilein, a compound isolated from Caesalpinia sappan was investigated.  MTT assay showed that the IC50 value of brazilein against human breast cancer MCF-7 cells was 7.23±0.24 µmol/L. Western blot, RT-PCR assay, and RNA interference assay illustrated that brazilein induced growth inhibition of breast cancer cells and down regulation of GSK-3β/β-catenin pathway was involved in its mechanism.15 The chloroform extract induces cell death in head and neck cancer cells lines. It resulted in increases in the HNSCC4 and HNSCC31 cells, which is linked to increased cellular levels of p21 WAF1/CIP1. Sappan wood act as a anti tumour agent in oriental medicine16. Methanol and water extracts exhibited marked cytotoxic activity against human cancer cells lines such as  HeLa, MDA MB, A 549, and HCT-15 in the MTT assay. The water extract obtained from the heartwood of Caesalpinia sappan has shown promising cytotoxic and apoptotic potential.   The in vivo study in albino mice using Ehrlich carcinoma model resulted in an increase in the life span17.  



Anti hepatotoxic effect of methanolic extract was observed in freshly isolated rat hepatocytes at concenteations 1000-800 µg/ml and was  found to be similar to that of standard drug silymarin. Both extracts was abel to restore the biochemical levels to normal which were altered due to ccl4 intoxification in freshly isolated rat hepatocytes and also in animals.18   The methanol and aqueous extracts of heartwood of Caesalpinia Sappan for its hepatoprotective activity against ccl4 induced toxicity in freshly isolated rat hepatocytes and animals19.



Brazilein an important immunosuppressive component of  sappan showed inhibition of  T cells proliferation and suppress mice humoral immune response. Ethanol extract of sappan heartwood suppress the immune competence of  lymphocytes , water extract affect T cells function and its ester extract can affect immune competence and NK cells. Ehanol extract has the strongest immunosuppressive function20.



Brazelien showed highest DPPH radical scavenging activity and ferric reduction activity as compared to standard vitamin E and other compound isolate from sappan lignum including brazilein, sappanchalcone, protosappanin B  and C. It also showed dose dependant inhibition of peroxide formation in linoleic acid emulsion during incubation at 500 c for 250h21.




The dichloromethane extract of the roots and heartwood of Sappan lignum exhibit potent inhibitory activity against β- hexosaminidase release as marker of degranulation in rat basophilic leukemic cells, with inhibition of 98.7% and 87.5% at concenteration of 100 µg/ml, respectively. Sappanchalcone possessed the most potent effect against allergic reaction in rat basophilic leukemic ( RBL 2H3)  cells with an inhibitory concenteration (IC50) value of 7.6um22.



Ethanol extract of  Sappan lignum obtain brazilein. In isolated cardiac tissues, brazilein exhibited a  +ve inotropic action in a concenteration dependant manner with little effect on heart rate and coronary perfusion. Albino guinea pig erythrocytes enriched with Na+ K+, ATPase  isoforms were utilized to compare the inhibition promoted by brazilein with that of classical inhibitors such as cardiac glycosides deslanoside. The extent of maximum inhibition rate was about 50%. Brazelien produced its positive inotropic effect through inhibiting Na+ K+-ATPase .23



Brazilin, the principle component of sappan lignum has been found to exhibit hypoglycaemic properties and to increase glucose metabolism in diabetics rats.  It improved glucose metabolism in cultured rat hepatocytes, also increased basal glucose transport in 3T 3L1 fibroblasts and adipocytes , but insulin stimulated glucose transport was not influenced.24



Brazilin isolated from Sappan lignum possessed antibacterial activity against propionibacterium acnes with MIC and MBC  values of 15.6 and 31.2ug/ml, respectively. Brazilin rich extract considered as a potential coloring agent with anti bacterial and acne activity which is used for pharmaceutical, cosmetic, and neutraceutical applications.25



Homoisoflavanone, sappanone A, was isolated from Caesalpinia sappan and proven to dose-dependently inhibit both melanogenesis and cellular tyrosinase activity via repressing tyrosinase gene expression in mouse B16 melanoma cells. sappanone A is the first homoisoflavanone to be discovered with melanogenesis inhibitory activity. Results gave a new impetus to the future search for other homoisoflavanone melanogenesis inhibitors26.



The Caesalpinia  sappan possessed various reported activities such as anti osteoporotic activity27, suppression of melanin synthesis28, anti helmintic29, anti bacterial30,  anti influenza virus31 , vasorelaxant32 were also reported in this plant. Toxicity evaluation of Sappan wood extract  showed it did not produce any acute or sub acute toxicity upto 5000 mg/kg in rats33.



Sappan wood with high therapheutic effect and vast folklore uses is worth studying more that might provide a rich natural resource of lead compounds for drug development. Medicinally  the wood is recommended as a substitute for logwood. It has vast uses in ayurveda  and yunani.  Based on literature review, Caesalpinia  sappan heartwood has high potential for  therapeutic and colouring use. Dyeing properties  which has a use in colouring foods such as hard cheese, butter, dairy products, fish products, beverages, bakery, ice creams etc.  Brazelien has potential pharmacological activity such as anti-tumour, anti inflammatory, anti-diabetic, immunostimulant properties and also anti thirst, blood purifying action and  healing properties in Aurvedha and Unani  beneficial to develop into  a drug , neutraceuticals and cosmetics.



1.       The Wealth of India. A Dictionary of Indian Raw  Materials and Industrial Products-Raw Materials Series, Publication and Information Directorate, CSIR. 2;1988: 14-16

2.       Kritikar, K.R., and Basu, B.D.  Indian Medicinal Plants. 2; 2006: 847-848.

3.       Saitoh T, Sakashita S, Nakata H, et al. 3- Benzyl chroman derivatives  related to brazilin from sappan lignum, chem. Pharm Bull. 34(6); 1986: 2506-2511.

4.       www.itis.gov / it is report. Accessed on 15/12/2014.

5.       L Zhao, H., et al., Study on chemical constituents of Caesalpinia sappan .Food and Drug. 12(5); 2010: 176-180.

6.       Fuke, C., et al.,  2 Aromatic-compounds related to brazilin from Caesalpinia sappan . Phytochemistry. 24(10); 1985: 2403-2405.

7.       Namikoshi, M. And T. Saitoh,  Homoisoflavonoids and related-compounds. Absolute-configurations of homoisoflavonoids from Caesalpinia sappan L. Chemical and Pharmaceutical Bulletin. 35(9); 1987: 3597-3602

8.       Namikoshi, M., H. Nakata, and T. Saitoh,  Homoisoflavonoids and related-compounds .5. A novel dibenzoxocin derivative from Caesalpinia sappan L Chemical and Pharmaceutical Bulletin . 35(9); 1987:    3615-3619.

9.       Zhao, M.-B., et al., Two new phenolic compounds from the heartwood of Caesalpinia sappan L .Molecules . 19(1); 2013: 1-8.

10.     Quraishi and khan, pakist J For. 15; 1965: 250.

11.     Rajyalaxmi. E, Observation on the Effect of LUKOL in post-I.U.D  Leucorrhoea and bleeding, Medicine and surgery. 5; 1982: 27.

12.     Nadkarni.k.M. Indian Materia Medica . 1; 2009:230.

13.     Hikino H, Taguchi T, et al. Anti- inflammatory principles of Caesalpinia sappan wood and of Haemetoxylon compechianum wood. Planta Med . 31; 1977: 214-220. 

14.     Kim Y, Noh K, Lee Y, et.al. Inhibitory effects of herbal medicines on hyaluronidase activity. Korean Pharmacognosy.  26(3); 1995: 265-272.

15.     Tao LY,et al. Brazilein, a compound isolated from Caesalpinia sappan Linn., induced growth inhibition in breast cancer cells via involvement of GSK-3B/B-catenin/cyclin D1 pathway.  Chem. Boil Interact . 206(1); 2013.

16.     EunCheol Kim et al,  Caesalpinia sappan induces cell death by increasing the expression of p53 and p21 WAF1/C1P1 in head and neck cancer cells. American Journal of Chinese Medicine . 33; 2005: 405.

17.     Itokawa H, Hirayama F et al., Screening test for anti tumour activity of crude drugs (III). Studies on anti tumour activity of Indonesian Medicinal plants, Shoyakugaku Zasshi.  44(1); 1990: 58-62

18.     F.A., et al., PASS-predicted hepatoprotective activity of Caesalpinia sappan in thioacetamide-induced liver fibrosis in rats. Kadir The Scientific World Journal,  2014: 301879-301879

19.     Srilakshmi VS, et al. Hepatoprotective properties of Caesalpinia sappan Linn. Heartwood on carbon tetrachloride induced toxicity. Indian Journal of Experimental Biology. 48(9); 2010: 905-910.

20.     Yu Bo, Houjing-bo, Luhang,et al,.effects of different components of Caesalpinia sappan Linn on immunocompetence of rat immunocytes (J). Chinese Journal of Critical Care Medicine. 22(4); 2002: 187-189.

21.     Chalermpong Saenjum, Sasithorn Sirilun, et al., Anti oxidant activity and protective effects of DNA damage of Caesalpinia sappan of Linn. Extract. Journal of Medicinal Plants Research. 4; 2010: 1594-1600.

22.     Yodsaoue, O., et al., Anti-Allergic Activity of Principles from the Roots and Heartwood of Caesalpinia sappan on Antigen-Induced beta-hexosaminidase Release. Phytotherapy Research. 23(7); 2009:  1028-1031

23.     Yu, B., J. Hou, and H. Lu, Effect of different extracts of Caesalpinia sappan L on T lymphocyte subsets and myocardial protectively function after rat heart transplantation. Chinese Journal of Endemiology. 23(6); 2004:  539-542

24.     Kim YM, kim SG et al., Brazilin stimulates the glucose transport in 3T3-L1 cells . Planta Med. 64(5); 1998: 456-458.

25.     Nirmal, N.P. and P. Panichayupakaranant, Anti-Propionibacterium acnes assay-guided purification of brazilin and preparation of brazilin rich extract from Caesalpinia sappan heartwood. Pharmaceutical Biology. 52(9); 2014: 1204-1207.

26.     T.-S., S.-Y. Chao, and H.-Y. Ding, Melanogenesis Inhibition by Homoisoflavavone Sappanone A from Caesalpinia sappan Chang International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 2012. 13(8): p. 10359-10367

27.     The characterization and anti-osteoporotic activity of Sappan Lignum (Caesalpinia sappan L.) extracts Subehan, S., Y. Rifai, and Mufidah, International Journal of Phytomedicine, 2013. 5(1): p. 7-13.

28.     Suppression of  Melanin Synthesis by the Phenolic Constituents of Sappanwood (Caesalpinia sappan) Mitani, K., et al., Planta Medica, 2013. 79(1): p. 37-44.

29.     Rasheed, A., et al., In-vitro evaluation of anthelmintic activity of barks of Caesalpinia sappan Archives of Applied Science Research, 2010. 2(1): p. 398-400

30.     Kwon, H.-J., et al., Antibacterial Activities of Caesalpinia sappan L. Extract and Structural Analysis of Its Related Brazilin Korean Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology. 38(1); 2010: 105-111.

31.     Liu, A.-L., et al., In vitro Anti-Influenza Viral Activities of Constituents from Caesalpinia sappan. Planta Medica. 75(4); 2009: 337-339.

32.     He, W., et al., Zhongguo Zhong yao za Zhi  Zhongguo Zhongyao Zazhi . Vasorelaxation effects of homoisoflavonoids from Caesalpinia sappan in rat thoracic aortic rings China journal of Chinese Materia Medica .34(6); 2009: 731-4.

33.     Sireeratawong S.et al. Toxicity evaluation of sappan wood extract in rats.93 Suppl 7; 2010:S50-7.




Received on 22.09.2015       Modified on 06.10.2015

Accepted on 30.10.2015      ©A&V Publications All right reserved

Res.  J. Pharmacognosy & Phytochem. 7(4): Oct-Dec. 2015; Page 227-231

DOI: 10.5958/0975-4385.2015.00035.7