Sanguinaria canadensis, most commonly referred to as bloodroot, has a rich Native American background. Its nickname, war paint, should give you some indication of its importance to the early Indian culture. The nickname, bloodroot, came about because of the red sap that would “bleed” from the roots of the flower. Many tribes used it as a dye for clothing, baskets, and face paint. Other parts of the flower were also used to create orange and yellow dyes as well. At one point it was even imported by the French for use as a coloring agent on wool.
The flower is local to eastern North America and is one of the earliest wildflower blooms found in spring. While there are many more interesting facts on the horticulture of this plant, (for instance, the bloodroot relies on ants to spread its seeds) it actually has a number of natural health benefits as well.
In fact, it is considered to have certain anti-cancer properties, specifically skin cancer, since it contains berberine, a substance found to fight cancer cells. Bloodroot has been researched and found to be a potent anticancer agent. In addition to laboratory tests, it has been used to treat tens of thousands of people over the last century and a half. Many of these (according to some estimates as many as 80%, which is probably greatly exaggerated) experienced remission of malignancy and longer life expectancies than people with similar conditions who chose different treatments.
This herb is used in blood cleansing formulas. It is currently being studied further to determine its level of effectiveness as a skin cancer treatment. While the studies may not confirm its use for this yet, bloodroot has been used for years to treat a variety of other skin conditions including ringworm, skin tags, warts, polyps, and fungal growth. Dr. Andrew Weil has recommended a powered or paste version of bloodroot for the removal of skin tags and moles.
Its antibiotic properties have led it to be approved by the FDA as a toothpaste ingredient. The extract has been used to treat gingivitis and help with prevention and formation of cavities, plaque, and tartar.
Native Americans took notice of the plant’s ability to stimulate mucous membranes and used bloodroot as a tea-based remedy for coughs and other respiratory conditions. Bloodroot can also help improve blood flow in the body and is believed to help prevent heart palpitations. In addition, a variety of other uses for bloodroot have been reported. On the WebMD website, it is reportedly being used for the following:
“Bloodroot is used to cause vomiting, empty the bowels, and reduce tooth pain. It is also used to treat croup, hoarseness (laryngitis), sore throat (pharyngitis), poor circulation in the surface blood vessels, nasal polyps, achy joints and muscles (rheumatism), warts, and fever.”
While the usage for this plant is wide, there is one caveat. A little can go a long way. According to the NYU Langone Medical Center, “In large doses, it causes nausea and vomiting, and even at lower dosages it has been reported to cause peculiar side effects in some people, such as tunnel vision and pain in the feet.”
It is most widely used as a topical treatment, but since it can cause burns after long-term use when applied directly to the skin or with excessive application, it is important to start slowly to determine sensitivity when used topically.
“Bloodroot” … War Paint and the Medicine Man