Blood root: A Bit of Botany
a little botanical information about bloodroot

Sanguinaria canadensis, is a member of the Papaveraceae family. It is a native spring wildflower perennial that grows up to ten inches tall; the plant has a single, basal leaf that can be as wide as eight inches. The flower is located on a separate stalk and is white with a yellow center.

Bloodroot is one of the first wildflowers to bloom beginning in late winter and continuing into early spring. The "root", consisting of a thickened rhizome covered with fibrous roots, is known for its reddish-orange color.

common names
& nomenclature

Bloodroot refers to the reddish-orange color of the root of this plant.

Also known as:
red root, red indian paint, tetterwort, indian paint, indian plant, pauson, red paint root, red puccoon, red root, paucon, coon root, snakebite, sweet slumber, and bloodroot

Blood Root, the dye root herb
Blood root: Where in the World
habitat and range for bloodroot

Bloodroot is native to eastern North America from Nova Scotia, Canada southward to Florida, United States, and west to Great Lakes and down the Mississippi embayment.

Blood root: Cultivation & Harvesting
considerations for growing and harvesting bloodroot

Sanguinaria canadensis plants are found growing in moist to dry woods and thickets, often on flood plains and near shores or streams on slopes. They grow less frequently in clearings and meadows or on dunes, and are rarely found in disturbed sites.

Blood root prefers moist acidic soil.

Bloodroot propagation is typically done through seed or root division. Seeds are not readily available in large volumes and rootstock is expensive. Bloodroot is easily propagated by dividing the rhizomes in spring or in fall. Plants can be started indoors from seed or seed can be directly sown into the ground, but the rhizome divisions allow for a faster harvestable root.

Most bloodroot is harvested in the fall, but some is harvested in spring. If harvesting in fall, more than likely the leaves will have died back, making it difficult to know where plants are located unless the beds were clearly marked beforehand. Great care should be taken not to damage the roots.

Shake the roots free of soil and carefully remove any roots that are not bloodroot. Bloodroot is very susceptible to mold and should be processed as soon as possible. Wash the roots with a high-pressure stream of water from a hose. All soil must be removed from the roots. This may require breaking some of the larger roots to get them clean.

Once the roots are clean, they are can be dried in a warm place with high airflow. A dehydrator, greenhouse, or room equipped with racks, dehumidifier, heater, and fan is often used. Roots are dried at about 950F, with high air-flow, for approximately three to seven days. Roots must be checked regularly for mold or deterioration. When roots break without bending, they are dry enough to store.

Special attention must be paid to larger roots to be sure they are dried thoroughly. Once the roots are completely dry, they can be stored in burlap sacks, cardboard barrels, or cardboard boxes, in a cool, dark, dry location. They need to be protected from rodents and insects. Dried roots can be stored for two years.

Since bloodroot preparations can also damage healthy skin, they should be used carefully and never on broken skin or sensitive areas, such as the eyelids, lips or genitals.

Blood root: The Rest of the Story
bloodroot history, folklore, literature & more

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria Canadensis), commonly known as bloodroot, is a low-growing, North American flowering plant and the sole member of its genus. This fact doesn’t mean that the plant is less than prolific, however, since its propagation is aided by the activity of ants. In a type of mutualism called myrmecochory, ants collect and store bloodroot seeds in the colony to be used as food. Some of the seeds are consumed, but others are nourished by by-products produced in the nest and later germinate.

The chief chemical component of this herb is sanguinarine, which actually represents a group of alkaloids that produce effects similar to morphine

Ironically, however, the U.S. Federal Drug Administration allows this substance to be incorporated into toothpastes and mouthwashes designed to reduce dental plaque. Although bloodroot alkaloids are indeed antibacterial, sanguinarine has been found to be less effective than other anti-plaque agents, such as chlorhexidine and doxycycline. More importantly, sanguinarine has been linked to an increased risk of developing oral leukoplakia and oral cancer. While many manufacturers have removed sanguinarine from their products, other dental preparations that contain this substance may still exist. Setting the cancer controversy aside, sanguinarine is known to induce uterine contractions, so it should be avoided by pregnant women entirely.

In another ironic twist, the toxic effects of bloodroot alkaloids may also offer anti-cancer benefits. For instance, researchers at Drake University in Iowa have recently discovered that sanguinarine significantly inhibits growth in K562 cells, a line of human myelogenous leukemia cells. Although studies are currently focused on using cultured cells rather than humans, it's possible that bloodroot extracts may one day be used in cancer therapy.

Used externally, bloodroot has some very specific and highly desirable qualities—if used properly. Specifically, bloodroot alkaloids effectively dissolve unsightly moles, warts and skin tags. In fact, bloodroot is the active ingredient in Dermatend, a commercial cream mole remover. However, since bloodroot preparations can also damage healthy skin, they should be used carefully and never on broken skin or sensitive areas, such as the eyelids, lips or genitals.

Eversole LR, Eversole GM, Kopcik J. Sanguinaria-associated oral leukoplakia: Comparison with other benign and dysplastic leukoplakic lesions. Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Pathol Oral Radiol Endod . 2000;89:455-464.

Brinker FJ. Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions . 2nd ed. Sandy, OR: Eclectic Medical Publications; 1998.

Damm D, et al. Leukoplakia of the maxillary vestibule — an association with Viadent ? Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Pathol Oral Radiol Endod 1999;87:61-66.