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. The stems terminate in a single white, poppy-like flower.
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; this led to the discovery that the plant was effective in removing moles and warts. Bloodroot is mildly anaesthetic and was applied to the skin before some of the more painful initiation ceremonies suffered by Mohawk youths.
The plant is antiseptic, antispasmodic, antibacterial, cardio-active, stimulating to the womb and circulatory system, and emetic in large doses. In traditional medicine it is used externally to treat warts, moles, fungal infections such as ringworm, varicose ulcers, some topical tumours, while the dried root is powdered and inhaled like snuff to treat 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 could cure some skin cancers are valid, and 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 toothpastes.
Bloodroot is used to stimulate appetite in humans and cattle and is used by veterinarians as a natural antibiotic for domestic animals. Overuse can lead to hysteria.
Alexander McCowan is author of The World’s most Dangerous Plants