Cryptolepis is an African shrub that is used traditionally for malaria, inflammation, and other infections. It contains cryptolepine, a phytochemical that demonstrates antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and other beneficial effects in modern scientific research studies.
Cryptolepis is a thin-stemmed, scrambling shrub native to Central and West Africa and can reach up to 8 meters long. It has a vine-like appearance with shiny bright green leaves and clusters of subtle yellow-greenish flowers.
When the stem is cut, it releases an orange sap that becomes red upon drying. Its roots are yellow, hence the name yellow-dye root plant.
This plant is commonly found in tropical rainforests and mountainous regions. It can thrive in woody savannah areas as well but does poorly in swampy coastal regions. In parts of Ghana, cryptolepis can be seen growing as a groundcover over deserted farmlands.
Cryptolepis contains a biologically-active compound called cryptolepine that has been the subject of many research studies over the last few decades. Most notably, its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties contribute to its ability to fight infections, manage inflammation levels, and support other organs and systems of the body.
Cryptolepis is perhaps best known for its traditional use against malaria in many African countries, but it also has antimicrobial activity against a variety of other microbes.
This traditional use is backed by multiple modern scientific research studies. A 1996 series of in vitro and in vivo studies tested the effect of cryptolepis extract on chloroquine-resistant strains of Plasmodium falciparum (the parasite that causes malaria). The extract was able to significantly inhibit in vitro growth of P. falciparum.1
In a human clinical trial, 44 subjects with uncomplicated malaria were given a tea bag of 2.5g of cryptolepis root powder three times daily for five days. Of the study participants, 50% were cleared of the parasite within three days, and all subjects by day 7.2
A 2020 in vitro study tested multiple herbal medicines against Borrelia burgdorferi, a bacteria that causes Lyme disease. Cryptolepis extract demonstrated strong activity against B. burgdorferi and was the only extract in that study to eradicate the bacteria in vitro completely.3
Additionally, cryptolepis also possess antiviral and antifungal actions.
A 2020 computer-simulated study published in the Biomedical Research journal found that multiple compounds in cryptolepis were able to inhibit the SARS-CoV-2 virus by binding to viral proteins. The authors suggest that cryptolepis should be further studied in vitro and in vivo against SARS-CoV-2.4
In a 1995 in vitro study, a cryptolepis extract inhibited different strains of Candida albicans, a yeast that, in excess, can cause a fungal infection.5
The compound cryptolepine found in cryptolepis has anti-inflammatory effects. Animal and in vitro studies show that cryptolepine inhibits the production of nitric oxide and modulates the NF-κB pathway, thereby reducing inflammation. Cryptolepis may also be of use in balancing brain and central nervous system inflammation.
In a 2013 in vitro study, cryptolepine demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects on microglia, the resident immune cells of the brain and nervous system.
When inflammation is present, these immune cells can release more inflammatory compounds. Cryptolepine balances this process by targeting and modulating inflammatory pathways.7
Although human clinical trials are needed, a growing number of in vitro research studies are testing the activity of cryptolepis against various cancer cells.6
A 2021 in vitro study found cryptolepine, the main bioactive compound in cryptolepis, to inhibit a signaling pathway involved in many cancers.8
In 2013, an extensive review of the anticancer activity of cryptolepis was published in the Ghana Medical Journal. The authors propose that the plant’s anti-inflammatory activity may be largely responsible for its anticancer activity.9,10
Paramount to this anti-inflammatory activity is cryptolepine’s ability to downregulate inflammatory genes like COX-2 and induce apoptosis.9,10
In a 2012 animal study, varying concentrations of cryptolepis extract were given to rats and compared against a control group. The study found the cryptolepis treated groups had significant reductions in blood glucose concentrations and intestinal glucose absorption.
The authors of the study suggest cryptolepis has hypoglycemic activity due to this ability to reduce glucose absorption and transport.11
Cryptolepis has a long history of use as an herbal medicine in Central and West Africa, where it originates.
The plant is traditionally used for malaria, upper respiratory tract infections, inflammation in the joints, urinary tract infections, and intestinal disorders. It is also used for stomach discomfort and stomach ulcers.
Cryptolepis is used extensively for malaria and can be found in most combination herbal preparations given for the infection.
Beyond medicinal use, the branches of cryptolepis are used as a rope in the construction of houses and the roots are used to make a yellow dye.
Cryptolepis is typically consumed as a tincture for medicinal purposes, although you may also see it in a powdered capsule form.
The general dosage for a cryptolepis tincture is 1-2 mL, 2-3 times per day.
There are no known drug interactions.
Always check with your health care practitioner before use if you are taking medications. For more general education on potential interactions between herbs and medications, check out Dr. Bill Rawls’ article: Is it Safe to Take Herbs with My Medications?
Do not use cryptolepis if you are trying to conceive, pregnant, or breastfeeding.
Disclaimer: This information is intended only as general education and should not be substituted for professional medical advice. Any mentioned general dosage options, safety notices, or possible interactions with prescription drugs are for educational purposes only and must be considered in the context of each individual’s health situation and the quality and potency of the product being used. Use this information only as a reference in conjunction with the guidance of a qualified healthcare practitioner.
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1. Grellier P, Ramiaramanana L, Millerioux V, et al. Antimalarial Activity of Cryptolepine and Isocryptolepine, Alkaloids Isolated fromCryptolepis sanguinolenta. Phytotherapy Research. 1996;10(4):317-321. doi:3.0.co;2-0”>10.1002/(sici)1099-1573(199606)10:43.0.co;2-0
2. Bugyei KA, Boye GL, Addy ME. Clinical efficacy of a tea-bag formulation of cryptolepis sanguinolenta root in the treatment of acute uncomplicated falciparum malaria. Ghana Med J. 2010;44(1):3-9. doi:10.4314/gmj.v44i1.68849
3. Feng J, Leone J, Schweig S, Zhang Y. Evaluation of Natural and Botanical Medicines for Activity Against Growing and Non-growing Forms of B. burgdorferi. Front Med (Lausanne). 2020;7:6. Published 2020 Feb 21. doi:10.3389/fmed.2020.00006
4. Borquaye LS, Gasu EN, Ampomah GB, et al. Alkaloids from Cryptolepis sanguinolenta as Potential Inhibitors of SARS-CoV-2 Viral Proteins: An In Silico Study. Biomed Res Int. 2020;2020:5324560. Published 2020 Sep 22. doi:10.1155/2020/5324560
5. Sawer IK, Berry MI, Brown MW, Ford JL. The effect of cryptolepine on the morphology and survival of Escherichia coli, Candida albicans and Saccharomyces cerevisiae. J Appl Bacteriol. 1995;79(3):314-321. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2672.1995.tb03143.x
6. Tudu CK, Bandyopadhyay A, Kumar M, et al. Unravelling the pharmacological properties of cryptolepine and its derivatives: a mini-review insight. Naunyn Schmiedebergs Arch Pharmacol. 2023;396(2):229-238. doi:10.1007/s00210-022-02302-7
7. Olajide OA, Bhatia HS, de Oliveira AC, Wright CW, Fiebich BL. Inhibition of Neuroinflammation in LPS-Activated Microglia by Cryptolepine. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:459723. doi:10.1155/2013/459723
8. Domfeh SA, Narkwa PW, Quaye O, et al. Cryptolepine inhibits hepatocellular carcinoma growth through inhibiting interleukin-6/STAT3 signalling. BMC Complement Med Ther. 2021;21(1):161. Published 2021 Jun 2. doi:10.1186/s12906-021-03326-x
9. Ansah C, Mensah KB. A review of the anticancer potential of the antimalarial herbal cryptolepis sanguinolenta and its major alkaloid cryptolepine. Ghana Med J. 2013;47(3):137-147.
10. Osafo N, Mensah KB, Yeboah OK. Phytochemical and Pharmacological Review of Cryptolepis sanguinolenta (Lindl.) Schlechter. Adv Pharmacol Sci. 2017;2017:3026370. doi:10.1155/2017/3026370
11. Ajayi AF, Akhigbe RE, Adewumi OM, Okeleji LO, Mujaidu KB, Olaleye SB. Effect of ethanolic extract of Cryptolepis sanguinolenta stem on in vivo and in vitro glucose absorption and transport: Mechanism of its antidiabetic activity. Indian J Endocrinol Metab. 2012;16 Suppl 1(Suppl1):S91-S96. doi:10.4103/2230-8210.94265