Cyprus Mail

Plant of the Week: Plant used for American Indian warpaint also useful against mosquitos

Name: Bloodroot (Sanguinaria Canadensis)

Otherwise known as: Pucoon, Indian Paint, Redroot

Habitat: A creeping perennial member of the Papaveraceae, growing up to 60cm in woodlands in central Canada and northern United States. It has a delicate rhizome and single, palmate, lobed leaves with scalloped edges, while the stems terminate in a single, white, poppy-type flower. Large doses induce vomiting, diarrhoea and narcotic trances.

What does it do: Bloodroot is one of the traditional medicinal plants of the northern Native Americans that was adopted by the Eclectics, a group of early settler physicians and used to treat a range of ailments. The Mohawk and the Huron tribes extracted an orange/red dye and used it as war-paint, also it served as a powerful midge and mosquito repellent; it was this practice which led to the discovery that the plant was effective in removing moles and warts. Bloodroot is mildly sedative and was applied to the skin before some of the more painful initiation ceremonies endured by Mohawk youths.

It is antiseptic, antispasmodic, antibacterial, cardio-active, stimulating to the womb and circulatory system, mildly anaesthetic and emetic in large doses. In traditional medicine it is used externally to treat warts, moles, fungal infections, such as ringworm, varicose ulcers, and topical tumours. The dried root is powdered and inhaled like snuff to reduce nasal polyps.

Internally, bloodroot was given as drops to combat asthma, croup, whooping cough, pneumonia, emphysema and to halt bleeding in tubercular lungs. Current herbal practice no longer favours the internal use of the plant as it can induce nausea and vomiting.

Modern research indicates that the traditional claims that bloodroot would cure skin cancers are valid, and that experiments being conducted in Japan on methods to reduce brain tumours have included the use of the alkaloid berberine; another constituent; sanguinarine, is now known to prevent dental plaque and is to be found in a number of proprietary toothpastes.

Bloodroot is used to stimulate appetite in humans and cattle and is used by veterinarians as a natural antibiotic for domestic animals.


Alexander McCowan is author of The World’s most Dangerous Plants


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