Bloodroot paste is a toxic substance made with the sap of the bloodroot plant and often used as an herbal remedy for skin ailments like warts, skin tags, ringworm or polyps. The efficacy of this paste in the removal of minor skin maladies is due to its corrosive properties when applied to living tissue. These corrosive properties have also led to bloodroot paste being touted as a cure for skin cancer, though most of these claims have proved to be not only scientifically dubious but also dangerous.
The bloodroot plant is an herb with white flowers native to the eastern parts of North America. Its colorful name comes from the reddish sap stored in its roots that oozes out when the surface of the plant is damaged in any way, making it look as if the plant is "bleeding." Native Americans used bloodroot sap as an herbal remedy for many skin conditions, and also took it internally in small doses as an emetic. They also took advantage of the sap's bright red coloring by using it as a dye.
Bloodroot paste is made using either bloodroot sap or dried, powdered bloodroot. Zinc chloride, a strong astringent, is often added. Another common additive is chaparral extract, which is taken from the shrub of the same name; in alternative medicine, chaparral is believed to have detoxifying properties. These ingredients are often cooked together with water and white flour to produce bloodroot paste that can then be applied topically.
Toxic alkaloids contained in bloodroot plants destroy living tissue and lead to the formation of a black scab called an eschar. This type of scab is most often seen following a burn injury, which is essentially what bloodroot causes by corroding the skin. Eventually, most eschar scabs will dry up and fall off by themselves, leaving healthy tissue behind. When bloodroot paste is applied to a skin malady like a wart, it kills the infected tissue of the wart as well as potentially destroying healthy tissue surrounding the affected area. For this reason, salves containing bloodroot sap should generally be used with caution and should never be applied to sensitive areas of skin, such as the eyelids, underarms or genitals.
Since bloodroot paste is effective in killing off infected or otherwise damaged tissue, some practitioners of herbal or natural medicine believe it can remove skin cancers, as well. This claim is still under investigation, however. While some patients have successfully treated their cancers with bloodroot, others have found that the application of the paste only destroys surface cancers, leaving behind cancerous tissue under the skin. Still other patients are permanently scarred or disfigured due to the toxicity of this kind of treatment.