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True Blood (root)



This elusive native perennial once flourished throughout these Ozark woodland slopes; however bloodroot’s population is in serious jeopardy from illegal harvesting. It’s quite exhilarating to come across a colony these days in the woods. Keep your eyes peeled when out hiking, because this plant has some amazing attributes!! Let me share with you some intriguing factoids.

Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis L., is from the same family as poppies, (Papaveraceae), and the sole member of its genus. It’s not surprising then, if ingested bloodroot can cause a positive opiate reading during a urinalysis.

The principal chemical within bloodroot is called sanguinaria, which represents a group of alkaloids that are toxic at high doses and produce effects similar to morphine! Therefore, great care should be taken when dividing these rhizomes, since this chemical may cause numbness to the gardener’s hands.

The brilliant red sap of the bloodroot is where the plant gets its name.

The brilliant red sap of the bloodroot is where the plant gets its name.

Historically, various Native American tribes used the brilliant red sap from rhizomes to concoct dye for face/war paint, etc. Since this sap too contains sanguinaria, historians believe the natives would dilute it with animal fat to prevent any adverse skin reactions. Native Americans also created a tea-like tincture from the rhizomes to be used externally for skin lesions, ulcers, warts, ringworm, athlete’s foot, and other fungoid ailments. Yep, this bloody sap offers many medicinal properties respected by Indians long ago and the medical industry today!! Studies are being done at a range of institutions from Drake University to the American Association of Cancer Research to study sanguinaria as an anticancer, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory drug!!

An over-the-counter commercial mole remover has been developed that harnesses bloodroot’s alkaloids to seemingly dissolve external tissue abrasions. DermaTend’s primary ingredient IS in fact sanguinaria, and consumer reports claim it to be as effective at eliminating moles, skin cancer, skin growths, and warts as surgical removal!!

Bloodroot illustrationOn another note, the repercussions of ingesting bloodroot are well documented and a simple online search will pull up the words TOXIC, POISON, DO NOT INGEST. Ironically, sanguinaria is FDA approved for toothpaste and mouthwash…. Remember all the above literature references the external use of sanguinaria. Even way back when, historians say Native Americans knew of bloodroot’s effectiveness as an anti-bacterial agent against plaque/gingivitis, but they used it sparingly—not twice a day, every single day! Viadent got in big trouble a while back for leaving its users with an exponentially greater risk of developing oral lesions (known to lead to oral leukoplakia/cancer). Viadent has since re-formulated its products.

Everything about this woodland perennial is fascinating:  from bloodroot’s cancer-inhibiting to cancer-causing abilities, to the fact that the blossoms only last a single day, to the plant’s ability to self-pollinate for survival. Keep your eyes open this spring for bloodroot and remember:  “He who knows what sweets and virtues are in the ground, the waters, the plants, the heavens, and how to come to these enchantments, is the rich and royal man.”      ―Ralph Waldo Emerson

As always, Happy Gardening, Sam

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