Sanguinaria canadensis, also known as bloodroot or Indian paint, is a popular North American wildflower and member of the poppy family. The plant contains an alkaloid called sanguinarine, which has given it medicinal value as an antiseptic and anesthetic. However, due to its toxicity, bloodroot is rarely used without strict precautionary measures and supervision. The common name of bloodroot is derived from the blood-colored juice or sap which can be extracted from its root.
The Sanguinaria canadensis plant has exhibited various uses throughout its history. Its juice was commonly used as a body paint and dye by Native Americans. In fact, warriors would often paint their faces with it, which is where the plant developed the name Indian paint. The reddish-orange juice was also made into a dye for fabrics. Some tribes even used bloodroot as a love charm.
The Indians also took advantage of the root's ability to stimulate mucous membranes by making tea and using it as a remedy for coughs and various respiratory conditions, such as asthma and bronchitis. Native Americans were not the only people taking advantage of the benefits provided by Sanguinaria canadensis. Early settlers and herbal practitioners often prescribed bloodroot for the treatment of numerous afflictions, especially those affecting the skin. Conditions such as ringworm, warts, polyps, fungal growths, and similar skin problems were all treated with bloodroot paste. The tea from bloodroot was also used to treat rheumatism, laryngitis, fevers, and in some cases to induce vomiting.
In addition, Sanguinaria canadensis has been used for treating indigestion, throbbing headaches and migraines, menopausal hot flashes, and as a sedative. The juice extract has also been used as a gingivitis and plaque-fighting ingredient in hygiene products like mouthwash and toothpaste. Bloodroot can be found in pills, tablets, liquids, and tinctures through most herbal suppliers. For the most part, products containing bloodroot are considered safe but most homeopathic practitioners recommend its use with proper supervision.
Self-medication should be avoided, as the plant can be toxic. While the root juice of Sanguinaria canadensis has been used internally, it is done so only in very small doses; and even these small doses can produce visual distortions. Bloodroot can also cause abnormal heart rhythms and gastrointestinal problems. It can also be fatal in large doses. Since the plant is escharotic, caustic to the skin, care also must be taken when applying bloodroot to the skin. Excessive applications can lead to severe burns.