Bloodroot gets its name from the blood-red sap within the plant. It has been used not only as a dye but for medicine. Today, it is planted mainly as a garden ornamental or used as a natural dye.
Bloodroots are early spring perennials that are very popular garden flowers. They have beautiful white flowers but more impressively, they have almost blood-red sap. This sap has played an important role in Native American culture and as a medicine.
The sap was once used as body paint by Native Americans to scare their enemies. It has also been used as a dye for clothing and other materials which can still be done today. For the Ponca tribe, it was used as a love charm. A man would rub part of the root on his hand and then shake the hand of the woman he wanted to marry. It is said that 5 days or so after shaking his hand, the woman would be willing to marry him.
The sap and roots have been used to treat anything from skin problems, fevers, to arthritis and scarlet fever. It was listed in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia from 1820-1926 as a botanical drug. It had also been used in toothpaste and mouthwash up until the early 2000’s when they found that the root was not only toxic but causing oral leukoplakia which can lead to mouth cancer.
Blood Root’s Role in Cancer Treatment
Since the active ingredient in bloodroot is an alkaloid called sanguinarine, it has piqued an interest in cancer treatment. Sanguinarine is the compound in the plant that makes it toxic, along with a few other alkaloids. It works by blocking the cell’s ability to transport proteins which will lead to the cell’s death. It was first studied as a cancer treatment in the 1930s by Harry Hoxley, a self-proclaimed cancer specialist. He created a salve using blood root and other ingredients known as “black salve.”
Black salve was marketed as a cancer cure. You were to rub it on your tumors or cancerous spots and the salve would destroy the cancer cells, getting rid of the cancer. Later, in the 1950s, the FDA prohibited the sale of black salve. You can still get it online to this day, however, there is a good reason why this preparation is banned in many countries. It has been found that not only does the black salve destroy the cancer cells, but it destroys every cell and tissue it touches. It was found that all tissue that comes into contact with the black salve is damaged, causing extreme inflammation and chemical burn-like damage. There is no evidence that black salve with treat cancer of any type but we do know that it destroys all tissue and can even worsen the condition that was being treated in the first place.
DO NOT use black salve.
Common Name: Bloodroot
Scientific Name: Sanguinaria canadensis
Leaves- single basal leaf, palmate, round-lobed, grayish-green
Flower- white, yellow stamen, 8-10 petals, 2 inches wide
Root- thick rhizome, inside is red
Harvest Time: Fall
Parts Edible: Root
Found: Eastern half of North America; rich wood sites and along streams
-Fresh root was once used as an appetite stimulant in small amounts
-In larger amounts, the root was used as an arterial sedative
-Was once used as an ingredient in cough medicine
-The Cherokee used the root for rheumatism, asthma, bronchitis, laryngitis, fevers, and as an emetic
-The Algonquian used the sap as a blood purifier
-Juice from the roots was used topically to treat warts, eczema, and ulcers
-Various parts of the plant were once used to treat cramps and induce abortions
-Sap was once used to treat skin cancer by Native Americans
-Used as a plaque-inhibiting agent during the 1980’s and early 2000’s
-The root has been used as a homeopathic remedy to treat migraines
-Has been and is stilled used for creating a dye for clothing and other materials
-Native Americans used the sap to paint their skin
-Crushed root was also used as an insect repellent
Vitamins, Minerals, & More
Properties: antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anesthetic, anti-cancer, cathartic, emetic, emmenagogue, expectorant, diuretic, febrifuge, sedative, stimulant, tonic
Not readily available commercially but can be found or made into a tincture or dried.
Available mainly for gardens and landscaping.
-All parts of the plant are considered toxic
-It is not recommended that any part of the plant be ingested
-Do not use while pregnant or nursing
-Sap can cause topical and internal irritation
-Do not take if you have intestinal problems or an eye disease
-Do not take long term
-Could cause nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, and grogginess
-Harvest during the fall. Be sure to ark where plants are before they lose their leaves
-Gently dig up roots making sure not to damage them in the process
-Rinse clean of soil, rocks, and other debris
-Bloodroot roots are prone to mold and should be dried or used right away
-Considered exploitably vulnerable in New York and special concern in Rhode Island
Practicing Sustainable Wild Harvesting
- Only harvest plants you know are safe and can identify
- Only harvest plants in safe areas that are not contaminated or polluted
- Do not harvest on private property without permission
- Harvest no more than 10% or use the method: take 1 leave 2
- Know how to handle and prepare the plants you are harvesting
- Always check the legal status of the plant you want to harvest (is it endangered?)
–Missouri Botanical Garden Bloodroot
–St. Olaf College Bloodroot
–Science or Snake Oil: what is black salve?
–Application of black salve to a thin melanoma that subsequently progressed to metastatic melanoma: a case study
-Foster, Steven, and James Duke A. Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs: Of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. 65-66. Print.
-“Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs.” Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, by Claire Kowalchik and William H. Hylton, Rodale, 1998, pp. 48–49.