Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis L.)

Papaveraceae Poppy family

Parts used and where grown: True to its name, bloodroot has a bright red root (technically, the red-colored underground part of this plant is the rhizome). A red dye is derived from bloodroot. The plant grows primarily in North America and also in India.

In what conditions might bloodroot be supportive?

¥ cough

¥ gingivitis (periodontal disease)

Medicinal Properties: Expectorant, alterative, stimulant, diuretic, febrifuge, sedative, antibacterial, emmenagogue, tonic, emetic in larger doses. An overdose can be fatal.

Historical or traditional use: Native Americans employed bloodroot extensively in ritual and medicine. The dye was used as a body paint.1 Sore throats, cough, rheumatic pains, and various types of cancer were all treated with bloodroot.

Biochemical Information: Alkaloids including whelidonine, berberine, chelerythrine, sanguinarine

Active constituents: Alkaloids, principally sanguinarine, constitute the primary active compounds in bloodroot. These are sometimes used in toothpaste and other oral hygiene products because they inhibit oral bacteria.2 3 Test-tube studies have shown a range of anti-cancer effects for bloodroot alkaloids, but it is still unclear how safe and effective they are for this purpose.

How much should I take? Sanguinarine-containing toothpastes and mouth rinses can be used in the same way as other oral hygiene products. Bloodroot tincture is sometimes included in cough-relieving formulas, taken three times per day. However, bloodroot is rarely used alone for this purpose.

Legends, Myths and Stories: Bloodroot was used by the American Indians as a body paint and as a dye. A bachelor of the Ponca tribe would rub a piece of the root as a love charm on the palm of his hand, then scheme to shake hands with the woman he desired to marry. After shaking hands, the girl would be found willing to marry him in 5-6 days.

One Indian folk medicine guide recommended a tincture made by filling a pint bottle half-full with finely mashed root and adding equal parts of alcohol and wart until full. The recommended dosage ranged from 1-7 drops every 3-4 hours.

Uses: Internally: expectorant for acute and chronic respiratory tract affections, sinus congestion, stimulates the digestion, laryngitis, sore throat, asthma with cold thick phlegm, and croup. Most effective for pneumonia are 1 to 2 drop doses repeated frequently throughout the day. It combines well with cherry bark, eucalyptus, and honey in a syrup. A syrup may also be made with garlic and bloodroot tincture

Externally: The tincture is directly applied externally for the treatment of fungus, eczema, cancers, tumors, and other skin disorders . It is a good remedy for athlete's foot and rashes. An ointment of bloodroot alone or in combination with other herbs is directly applied to venereal sores, tinea capitis, eczema, ringworm, scabies, and warts.

Can be used for the following ailments: adenoid infections, nasal polyps, syphilitic troubles, piles (use strong tea as an enema), typhoid fever, catarrh, scarlatina, jaundice, dyspepsia, whooping cough and rheumatism.

Small doses stimulate the digestive organs and heart. Large doses act as a sedative and narcotic. When the condition is not easily overcome, combine with equal parts of goldenseal.

Experimentally, the alkaloid sanguinarine has shown antiseptic, anesthetic, and anticancer activity.

A recommended ointment was made by mixing an ounce of the powdered root in 3 oz. of lard, bringing the mixture to a boil, simmering briefly, then straining.

Are there any side effects or interactions? Long-term use of dental products containing sanguinarine are believed to be safe.4 Only small amounts of bloodroot should be taken internally, since this herb can cause visual changes, stomach pain, vomiting, paralysis, fainting, and collapse. Long-term oral intake of bloodroot has been linked to glaucoma. Bloodroot is unsafe for use in children as well as during pregnancy and lactation.

Formulas--Dosages: As a stimulant, expectorant, or alterative use; 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. of the powdered root or 1/2 to 1 gm. in decoction; tincture, 5 to 20 drops.

In a dose of 1/20 grain (a grain is 0.002083 ounces), bloodroot is a gastric and intestinal stimulant. A dose of 1/12 grain, it is an expectorant. Doses any larger will produce emetic (vomiting) effects. 8 grains given to a patient resulted in nausea after 15 minutes. 40 minutes later complaints of headache, nausea much more violent; 60 minutes later, the patient vomited twice. The cautions surrounding care in doses is clear.

The drug is usually administered in several-drop dosages of a tincture.

Warning: Bloodroot is a powerful herb. Some reports of nibbling the root has caused tunnel vision. Do Not Ingest.


Back to Eden, by Jethro Kloss; pg., 96.
The Complete Medicinal Herbal, by Penelope Ody, pg., 180.
Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants, by Steven Foster and James A. Duke, Plate 13, pg., 48.
The Herb Book, by John Lust, pgs., 128, 552.
Planetary Herbology, by Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D., O.M.D., pgs., 20, 384-385.
How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts, by Frances Densmore, pg., 295.
American Folk Medicine, by Clarence Meyer, pg., 284.
Indian Herbalogy of North America, by Alma R. Hutchens, pgs., 46, 54-55, 104, 253.
The Rodale Herb Book, edited by William H. Hylton, pgs., 367-368.
Webster's New World Dictionary, pg., 151.


1. Duke JA. CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1985, 424&endash;25. 2. Dzink JL, Socransky SS. Comparative in vitro activity of sanguinarine against oral microbial isolates. Antimicrob Agents Chemother 1985;27(4):663&endash;65. 3. Hannah JJ, Johnson JD, Kuftinec MM. Long-term clinical evaluation of toothpaste and oral rinse containing sanguinaria extract in controlling plaque, gingival inflammation, and sulcular bleeding during orthodontic treatment. Am J Orthod Dentofacial Orthop 1989;96(3):199&endash;207. 4. Frankos VH, Brusick DJ, Johnson EM, et al. Safety of Sanguinaria extract as used in commercial toothpaste and oral rinse products. J Can Dent Assoc 1990;56(suppl 7):41&endash;47.

  *These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.



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