Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis ) is a perennial plant with a white flower that blooms in early spring. It
belongs to the poppy family (Papaveraceae ) and grows in wooded areas throughout the northeastern regions of the United States and Canada. The leaves are palm-shaped and the flowers have eight to 12 petals. The root is thick and round and 1–4 in (2.5–10 cm) long. The plant generally grows to a height of 6 in (12 cm).
Bloodroot gets its name from its bright red root that, when cut open, oozes a crimson, blood-like juice. Other names for bloodroot are coon root, Indian plant, snakebite, sweet slumber, paucon, red root, and tetterwort.
Native Americans used bloodroot for medicinal, spiritual, and practical purposes. A dye made from the red sap of the root was used as body paint for war dances and ceremonies, as well as to color fabric. It was used medicinally as a remedy for fevers, cancer , rheumatism, to induce vomiting , and as an oral antiseptic.
The known active components of bloodroot are isoquinoline alkaloids, which have antibacterial, antimicrobial, expectorant, and antiseptic properties. Sanguinarine, a primary alkaloid of bloodroot, is noted for its ability to destroy bacteria that can cause gum disease (gingivitis) and dental plaque. In fact, because of its bacteria-inhibiting properties, sanguinarine is an ingredient in many oral hygiene products such as toothpastes and mouthwashes. Sanguinarine also has pain-relieving qualities. A gargle made from bloodroot can be used to soothe a sore throat .
Bloodroot is generally prescribed as an external treatment as it is poisonous if ingested in large amounts. However, bloodroot is a powerful expectorant and has been a primary, albeit rare, internal treatment for chronic bronchitis, croup , coughs, asthma , and other respiratory afflictions. In fact, bloodroot was catalogued as an expectorant in the Pharmocopoeia of the United States from 1820 to 1926.
Due to its bacteria-fighting compounds, herbalists often recommend bloodroot as a topical application for skin problems such as chronic eczema , fungus, athlete's foot , ringworm, venereal blisters , and rashes .
Bloodroot has a long history of use as a folk remedy for cancer. Native Americans used bloodroot to heal various forms of cancers and tumorous growths. Many modern herbalists prescribe a salve made from the root to remove warts , growths, and cancerous tumors. Bloodroot is currently the subject of several studies and experiments, but little scientific research has been performed to substantiate the use of bloodroot as a cure for certain cancers. Some studies have revealed that the alkaloid sanguinarine may inhibit the formation of tumors. However, the safety and effectiveness of its use has not been fully evaluated.
The parts used medicinally are the whole plant and root, or rhizome, which is collected in the fall.
Bloodroot is an ingredient in some homeopathic remedies, pharmaceutical preparations, cough formulas, toothpaste, and mouthwash. It is also available as a tincture and in dried root form, chopped and in powder.
A salve made from bloodroot can be used to remove warts and other growths.
Bloodroot is a potentially toxic herb. Take internally only under the supervision of a health care professional or qualified herbalist. (Topical use on unbroken skin is generally safe.)
Internal use of this herb should be supervised by a health care professional.
Pregnant or nursing women or women who are trying to conceive should avoid this herb.
Long term internal consumption may contribute to glaucoma . Persons with glaucoma should not use bloodroot.
The internal use of bloodroot by children is considered unsafe.
Internal doses in excess of 300 mg have been shown to cause vomiting. Higher doses are considered toxic and poisonous.
When taken in excess, bloodroot can also cause nausea , impaired vision, intense thirst, dizziness , a slowed heart rate, and a burning of the stomach.
Bloodroot contains skin-irritating compounds. When applied topically it may burn the skin or cause the skin to become red.
Toothpastes or mouthwashes usually only contain small amounts of sanguinarine and are considered safe for long-term use.
Chevalier, Andrew. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. DK Publishing Inc., 1996.
Heinerman, John. Heinerman's Encyclopedia of Healing Herbs and Spices. Parker Publishing Company, 1996.