What is Bloodroot?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Bloodroot is a plant indigenous to the Eastern US and parts of Canada. It is known scientifically as Sanguinaria Canadensis. Bloodroot may also be called red root, coon root, terrorwort, Indian paint and snakebite. It has a long history of use in both Native American medicine and modern chemistry and medicine.

Bloodroot might be an ingredient in mouthwash.
Bloodroot might be an ingredient in mouthwash.

Native Americans in the Eastern US used bloodroot to address lesions on the skin, like cancers or warts. The juice of bloodroot was also thought to purify blood, and was sometimes taken internally to calm coughs. It might have also been used in higher doses to cause vomiting.

Bloodroot is a member of the poppy family.
Bloodroot is a member of the poppy family.

By the late 19th century, bloodroot was used in medicine of the day as a caustic agent to burn off skin cancers. There is no clinical evidence that the caustic qualities of bloodroot were effective. Use of bloodroot for such purposes has long been discarded.

Later in the 20th century, extract of bloodroot became a common ingredient in both mouthwash and toothpaste. It was thought to reduce gum disease. Bloodroot has become a less common ingredient in the 21st century, as mild antibiotics are thought more effective in eliminating gum disease.

Some herbalists recommend taking a tincture of bloodroot for pharyngitis or bronchitis. The use of bloodroot, however, is not recommended in the medical profession. Bloodroot did show evidence of causing a precursor to cancer in the mouth. As well overdoses have been linked to intestinal bleeding, diabetes, heart disease, miscarriage and death. The use of bloodroot is strictly contraindicated in pregnant women and in children.

Since uses in medicine are highly questionable, one can merely enjoy the attractive appearance of bloodroot, a member of the poppy family. It flowers from March to May, producing white-petalled flowers that are about an inch (2.54 cm) wide. It has a pretty yellow center and the blossom stands on about six to twelve inches (15.24-30.48cm) of plant.

Bloodroot is most commonly found in wooded areas, preferring a greater degree of shade. It tends not to be cultivated, but grows wild in areas where its seeds have been distributed by ants. Spring walks in most of the woods of the Eastern US will usually include the sighting of one these pretty blooms.

Bloodroot paste is often used as an herbal remedy for warts.
Bloodroot paste is often used as an herbal remedy for warts.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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