Introduction to Cryptolepis
Nature’s Antibiotic Root

By Conrad Richter

Wild cryptolepis vine growing in field
Wild cryptolepis vine growing along the ground in a field.

Cryptolepis sanguinolenta is a bitter root long used in West Africa for the treatment of fevers, especially those caused by malaria [1]. It is an aggressive climbing vine found throughout West Africa, mainly from Senegal to Nigeria [2]. In Ghana, where Richters has established a test farm, it is endemic to the central regions of the country. Although wild populations are not yet threatened, demand for the roots is high and supplies are tightening. Cultivation will be necessary in the future [3].

Research studies show that the root, and its main active constituent, the alkaloid cryptolepine, do indeed have potent antimalarial activity [4] [5] [6].

But cryptolepis and cryptolepine have much broader antibiotic properties. They are known [7] to be antifungal, antibacterial, and antiamoebic, and there is early evidence that cryptolepine may be antiviral [8] [9]. They are effective against many resistant strains of bacteria, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) [10]. As well, cryptolepine has potent anticancer activity [11] and has been shown to arrest melanoma in animals [12]. The dried roots possess up to 3% cryptolepine by weight [13]. The pharmacological properties of cryptolepine explain many of the traditional uses of the root [14].

Traditionally the roots are boiled in water and taken at the direction of a herbalist. Homemade alcoholic herbal tonic drinks are also made with the roots and served as a social drink among men.

Dried cryptolepis roots.
Dried cryptolepis roots.

In recent decades cryptolepis has been used to treat North American tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease and babesiosis. Although there is no history of use of cryptolepis for these diseases, American herbalist Stephen Buhner has found that it is a useful tool in his herbal Lyme treatment toolkit [15]. A recent study [16] has provided backing for this idea, showing that the root extract is highly effective against Borrelia burgdorferi, the main bacterium that causes Lyme disease. Not only is it effective during the initial exponential growth phase following infection, it is effective during a harder-to-treat stationary phase when the bacterium probably lays down a biofilm [17] that resists conventional antibiotics [18]. This harder-to-treat phase may account for the chronic or recurrent forms of the disease that patients often experience.

Studies on the effects of cryptolepis on fertility and live birth rates in animals suggest that the herb should not be used during pregnancy [19]. But its centuries-long history of human use suggests that it is otherwise safe to use. A “generally safe” dose of the root extract is below 500 mg of root per kg of body weight [20] [21]. For Lyme disease and its coinfections, Stephen Buhner recommends a 1:5 tincture of the dried roots at a dose of 5 mL taken three times daily for 10 days, a regimen he says can be repeated once as necessary [22]. Dr Marty Ross, a doctor with a special interest in the treatment of Lyme disease, suggests the same regimen but does not specify a time limit [23]. He calls the herb his “go to” herbal treatment for babesiosis, a common coinfection of Lyme disease that is caused by the malaria-like Babesia parasite [24].

The potential of cryptolepis is enormous. Medical and scientific attention is quickening, and interest in it as a herbal remedy is spreading worldwide.


1. Yeboah P, Forkuo AD, Amponsah OKO, Adomako NO, Abdin AY, Nasim MJ, Werner P, Panyin AB, Emrich E, Jacob C (2020). Antimalarial drugs in Ghana: a case study on personal preferences. Sci 2:49.

2. Jansen PCM, Schmelzer GH (2010). Cryptolepis sanguinolenta (Lindl.) Schltr. Record from PROTA4U. Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa). Accessed 23 September 2022.

3. Amissah JN, Spiller M, Oppong A, Osei-Safo D, Owusu-Darko R, Debener T, Danquah EY, Addae-Mensah I (2016). Genetic diversity and cryptolepine concentration of Cryptolepis sanguinolenta (Lindl). Schlt. from selected regions of Ghana. Journal of Applied Research on Medicinal and Aromatic Plants 3:34–41.

4. Bugyei KA, Boye GL, Addy ME (2010). Clinical efficacy of a tea-bag formulation of Cryptolepis sanguinolenta root in the treatment of acute uncomplicated falciparum malaria. Ghana Medical Journal 44(1):3-9.

5. Tay SCK, Dankwa K, Gbedema SY, Sittie AA (2011). In vivo antimalarial activity evaluation of two Cryptolepis sanguinolenta based herbal decoctions. Inventi Impact: Ethnopharmacology 2011(1):68-71.

6. Forkuo AD, Ansah C, Mensah KB, Annan K, Gyan B, Theron A, Mancama D, Wright CW (2017). In vitro anti‐ malarial interaction and gametocytocidal activity of cryptolepine. Malaria Journal 16:496.

7. Osafo N, Mensah KB, Yeboah OK (2017). Phytochemical and Pharmacological Review of Cryptolepis sanguinolenta (Lindl.) Schlechter. Advances in Pharmacological Sciences 2017: 3026370.

8. Borquaye LS, Gasu EN, Ampomah GB, Kyei LK, Amarh MA, Mensah CN, Nartey D, Commodore M, Adomako AK, Acheampong P, Mensah JO, Mormor DB, Aboagye CI (2020). Alkaloids from Cryptolepis sanguinolenta as potential inhibitors of SARS-CoV-2 viral proteins: an in silico study. BioMed Research International 2020: 5324560.

9. Domfeh SA, Narkwa PW, Quaye O, Kusi KA, Addy BS, Lant S, Sumner RP, Maluquer de Motes C, Awandare GA, Ansah C, Mutocheluh M (2022). The pharmacologically active alkaloid cryptolepine activates a type 1 interferon response that is independent of MAVS and STING pathways. Journal of Immunology Research 2022: 8873536.

10. Mills-Robertson FC, Tay SCK, Duker-Eshun G, Walana W, Badu K (2012). In vitro antimicrobial activity of ethanolic fractions of Cryptolepis sanguinolenta. Annals of Clinical Microbiology and Antimicrobials 11:16.

11. Ansah C, Mensah KB (2013). A review of the anticancer potential of the antimalarial herbal Cryptolepis sanguinolenta and its major alkaloid cryptolepine. Ghana Medical Journal 47(3): 137-147.

12. Pal HC, Prasad R, Katiyar SK (2017). Cryptolepine inhibits melanoma cell growth through coordinated changes in mitochondrial biogenesis, dynamics and metabolic tumor suppressor AMPKα1/2-LKB1. Scientific Reports 7:1498.

13. Amissah JN, Alorvor FE, Okorley BA, Asare CM, Osei-Safo D, Appiah-Opong R, Addae-Mensah I (2022). Mineral fertilization influences the growth, cryptolepine yield, and bioefficacy of Cryptolepis sanguinolenta (Lindl.) Schlt. Plants 11:122.

14. Osafo et al. (2017).

15. Buhner SH (2005). Healing Lyme: natural healing and prevention of Lyme Borreliosis and its coinfections, 1st ed. Raven Press.

16. Feng J, Leone J, Schweig S, Zhang Y (2020). Evaluation of natural and botanical medicines for activity against growing and non-growing forms of B. burgdorferi. Frontiers in Medicine 7:6.

17. Sapi E, Bastian SL, Mpoy CM, Scott S, Rattelle A, Pabbati N, Poruri A, Burugu D, Theophilus PAS, Pham TV, Datar A, Dhaliwal NK, MacDonald A, Rossi MJ, Sinha SK, Luecke DF (2012). Characterization of biofilm formation by Borrelia burgdorferi in vitro. PloS ONE 7(10):e48277.

18. Kamble E, Pardesi K (2021). Antibiotic tolerance in biofilm and stationary-phase planktonic cells of Staphylococcus aureus. Microbial Drug Resistance 27(1):3-12.

19. Ansah C, Mensah KB, Woode E, Duwiejua M (2010). Reproductive and developmental toxicity of Cryptolepis sanguinolenta in mice. Research Journal of Pharmacology 4(1):9-14.

20. Ansah C, Otsyina HR, Duwiejua M, Woode E, Aboagye FA, K.G. Aning KG (2009). Toxicological assessment of Cryptolepis sanguinolenta for possible use in veterinary medicine. Journal of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Health 1(1):11-16.

21. Osafo et al. (2017).

22. Buhner S (2006). Buhner healing Lyme: staying on your protocol. Accessed 23 September 2022.

23. Ross M (n.d.). A Lyme disease antibiotic guide. Accessed 23 September 2022.

24. Ross M (n.d.). Kills Babesia: a brief guide. Accessed 23 September 2022.

Conrad Richter is president of Richters Herbs.

© 2022 Richters Herbs. This article was adapted from the author’s notes distributed at the 2022 Canadian Herb Conference in connection with a presentation on the same subject.
Copyright © 1997-2022 Otto Richter and Sons Limited. All rights reserved.