Caesalpinia Sappan Wood (Su Mu)

sappan lignumSappan wood, also known as Caesalpinia sappan in scientific name or Su Mu in Pinyin, is a medicinal and dye yielding plant. Medicinally the brazilin and volatile oil, extracted from heartwood of sappan tree, can kill bacteria, reduce swelling, and relieve pain. As a result, it is widely used in traditional Chinese medicine and the “Compendium of Materia Medica” reviews that it is able to promote blood circulation and disperse stasis. In addition, in recent years this herb is also found with effects of enhancing the cardiovascular contraction as well as hypnotizing and anaesthetizing central nerve. So, this is a drug you should never look down upon although it is not one of 50 fundamental Chinese herbs.

What is Caesalpinia sappan?

Medicinally it refers to the dried heartwood of Caesalpinia sappan L., which is a species flowering tree belonging to the legume or pea family (fabaceae). It is also a relative of Brazilwood (Caesalpinia echinata) and they are under a same genus. Hence, other common names of it include Sappanwood, “brezel wood”, East Indian redwood, Sapanwood, Suou, Chekke Sappanga, Sumu, sappan lignum, and so on. It is originally produced from the Malay Archipelago and Southeast Asia. In China it is now mainly cultivated or uncultivated in provinces of Guangxi, Guangdong, Yunnan, and Taiwan. And the one with best medicinal uses is from Guangxi. It can be harvested all year round. The steps are to cut down the trunk, remove the branch bark and sapwood, take the central part, saw it into segments, and dry in the sun. When processing it as medicine, it needs to be planed into thin slices or cut into small pieces, or sliced after steaming soft.

This is a small evergreen tree, with a few small thorns and bipinnate leaves. It blooms from June to September each year. Yellow flowers have 5 petals and form panicles. Wooden pod is red-brown, no cracking. It can be harvested after 8 years of transplanting. The preferred sappan heartwood is with older and deeper color.

Main chemical constituents of sappan lignum include 3-deoxysappanone, sappanone, 3′-deoxysappanone, sappanol, episappanol, 3′-O-methyl brazilin, brazilin, brazilin derivatives, ombuin, rhamnetin, quercetin, sappanchalcone, 4-4′-dihydroxy- 2′-methoxy-chalcone, protosappanin, 10-O-methylpro-tosappanin, calsalpin, octacosanol, β-sitosterol, taraxerol, and so on.

Sappan wood benefits

When it comes to Caesalpinia sappan benefits, it refers to two major aspects: dyeing and medicinal properties. First off, under the effect of different mordants like iron, aluminum, copper, lead, etc., the red dye extracted from sappan wood can be used in proper proportions with other vegetable dyes like indigo to generate a variety of colors, including yellow, red, purple, brown, green, purplish red, dark red, pinkish red, and the like. Secondarily, its main health benefits are activating blood circulation to dissipate blood stasis, which makes it an ideal herb for gynecological disorders and other problems due to stasis. From the perspective of western medicine, it is a drug with antibacterial and antioxidant activity. Here is the evidence drawn from its modern pharmacology.

Modern pharmacological actions of sapanwood

1) Its decoction can enhance the contractions of isolated frog heart;
2) Its water extract and alcohol extract can increase coronary blood flow and promote micro-circulation;
3) Brazilin and hematoxylin can inhibit ADP-induced platelet aggregation;
4) Its decoction has sedative and hypnotic effects. In addition, it can antagonize the excitatory effect on the central nervous system induced by the stimulant strychnine and cocaine;
5) Its decoction and infusodecoction have inhibitory effect on diphtheria bacillus, Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella typhi, and others;
6) It has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects.

Sample caesalpinia sappan recipes on herbal remedies

The Chinese Pharmacopoeia says that it is sweet and salty in flavor and neutral in nature. It goes to meridians of heart, liver, and spleen. Prime functions are promoting blood circulation to remove blood stasis and decreasing swelling to relieve pain. Major sappan wood uses and indications include amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, postpartum blood stasis, stabbing pain in abdomen and chest, and traumatic swelling and pain. Recommended dosage is from 3 to 9 grams in decoction. And other related herbal products, like sappan wood tea, powder, or extract, are also applicable.

1) Su Fang Mu Jian from Tai Ping Sheng Hui Fang (Taiping Holy Prescriptions for Universal Relief). It mainly treats menstrual stoppage, dysphoria with smothery sensation, pain, and so on.

2) Su Mu Tang from Fu Ke Yu Chi (The Jade Ruler of Gynecology). It cures asthma caused by postpartum Qi stagnation.

3) Su Fang Yin and Su Mu Jiu from Sheng Ji Zong Lu (Complete Record of Holy Benevolence). It heals bruises and tetanus.

4) Du Sheng San from “Complete Record of Holy Benevolence”. It treats lockjaw.

5) Jie Zhi Fang from She Sheng Zhong Miao Fang (Marvelous Formulas for the Health of the Multitudes). It treats amputated finger and wound caused by knife.

7) Su Mu San from Sha Zhang Yu Heng (Balance of Measles Rash with Distention). It cures hard lump due to measles and blood stasis.

Caesalpinia sappan side effects and contraindications

Sappan wood shouldn’t be used during pregnancy and in case of blood deficiency with no blood stasis. The “Compendium of Materia Medica” says that it should avoid iron; the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing Shu (Commentary on ‘Shen Nong’s Classic of the Materia Medica) comments that it shouldn’t be administered to women who are suffering from abdominal pain and blood deficiency but postpartum their lochia has been cleared; the Ben Jing Feng Yuan (Encountering the Sources of the ‘Classic of Materia Medica’) reviews that it shouldn’t be used in patients with loose stool.

5 thoughts on “Caesalpinia Sappan Wood (Su Mu)


    Historically, when did the Chinese started using Caesalpinia sp.?
    Was there any time in history of Chinese people that they search this plant in the south of Taiwan or even down to the Philippines in the 14th to 16th century? Is there any reference material you can refer me to?

  2. ann

    Why would say “Chinese Herbs” ?? You really should consider correcting this information. This has been in various countries since ancient.

  3. Mimi Santos

    Hi! I have recently learned about this herb. To my surprise, it is being used by community folks in the Philippines to control diabetes. One of the village (Barangay Sappang) in my birth town was named after this Sappan tree. Hence, I got curious about this plant.


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