- Family Papaveraceae
- Sanguinaria canadensis
- Indian Pain, Tetterwort, Red Root, Paucon, Coon Root, Snakebite, Sweet Slumber, Indian Plant, Pauson, Sanguinaria
- Take only under professional guidance, and do not exceed prescribed dosage. It induces vomiting in all but very small doses, and excessive doses are toxic. Because it has a very unpleasant and bitter taste, overdose is highly unlikely.
- Do not take during pregnancy, while breastfeeding, or if suffering from glaucoma.
Native to northeastern North America, the plant is a perennial growing to six inches, producing palm-shaped leaves and solitary flower stems, bearing beautiful, white flowers with eight to twelve petals. The leaves first appear wrapped around the flower bud, and are grayish-green and covered with downy fuzz. After flowering, the leaves increase in size and have prominent veins on their undersides. The roots are thick, fleshy, and slightly curved at the ends and contain an orange-red juice. It is mainly cultivated as a garden plant, but it does grow in shady woods. The rhizome is unearthed in summer or autumn.
Bloodroot was a traditional remedy of Native Americans, who used it to treat fevers and rheumatism, induce vomiting, and as an element of divination. Medicine men also used it to clear up ulcers, ringworm, and other infections.
It was not only used medicinally to treat skin infections and cancers, but it was also used as a dye and body paint.
The most unique usage was by the bachelors of the Ponca tribe in North Carolina, who used it as a love charm. A man would apply the red juice to his palms and then shake hands with the woman he wanted to marry. This ritual would be repeated over the next five or six days or until the object of his affection got the message.
The juice from the rhizome is a bright red – hence its name.
From 1820 to 1926, it was listed as an expectorant in the US Pharmacopoeia.
Bloodroot also contains protopine, a substance found in opium. In the 1800s, extracts were sometimes used as narcotic painrelievers.
- antiplaque agent
- isoquinoline alkaloids (especially 1% sanguinarine, berberine, and many others)
Its medicinal properties are attributed to several alkaloids. The most important ones are sanguinarine and chelerythrine. If ingested, sanguinarine stimulates saliva flow and raises blood pressure, among other effects. In small doses, it acts as an expectorant clearing mucous from the airways. In larger amounts, it induces vomiting. Both these alkaloids inhibit the growth of oral bacteria that form dental plaque that leads to gum disease.
There is also some evidence that bloodroot can inhibit the growth of skin cancers and sanguinanine may inhibit the growth of solid tumors.
Its main use in herbal medicine is as an expectorant in the form of a decoction to promote coughing and to clear mucus from the respiratory tract. However, it can be highly toxic if more than a tiny amount is swallowed. Therefore, its use now is almost always external.
Because of its antispasmodic effect, it is also prescribed for chronic bronchitis as well as asthma and whooping cough.
Washes and ointments are applied externally to treat athlete’s foot, warts, and other fungal or viral infections.
It is found in some toothpastes, mouthwashes, and homeopathic preparations.
The powdered root can be used as a snuff to treat nasal polyps. The dried roots are bitter and release a powder that causes sneezing.
Gargles made from the decoctions are effective for sore throats; and mouthwashes help treat gingivitis and prevent plaque buildup.
It is found in some natural toothpastes and mouthwashes, but should be used with caution and not swallowed.