Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is a flower native to the woodlands of North America. The rhizome — a small part of the stem — and the roots contain a red fluid that gives the plant its name (1).
Other names for this plant include Canada puccoon, bloodwort, redroot, red puccoon, pauson, coon root, and tetterwort (1).
Native Americans have long used bloodroot to treat various ailments, including sore throats, congestion, respiratory conditions, hemorrhoids, irregular menstruation, and wound infections. It has also been used to induce abortions (
Yet, you may wonder whether any research supports these claims.
This article covers everything you need to know about bloodroot, including its health benefits, side effects, and uses.
Bloodroot’s red liquid, which is concentrated in the rhizome, contains numerous alkaloids. These compounds are responsible for the plant’s medicinal properties (
Sanguinarine is the most extensively researched of bloodroot’s alkaloids (1).
The process by which bloodroot and its derivatives may work to combat disease is unclear. It has been applied in various applications over the centuries.
Preparations and applications
Historically, bloodroot was crushed, mixed with other ingredients, and applied as a paste. It could also be dried and consumed as a tea or inhaled as a powder. Now it can be found as an extract used in supplements or added to skin care products (
Interactions with Native Americans introduced Westerners to bloodroot. Research carried out by medical practitioners confirmed the medicinal capabilities of the rhizome. It was believed the plant’s seeds and leaves caused tremors, headaches, and torpor (
Early Western applications of bloodroot included (
- a respiratory muscle relaxant for asthma, croup, and whooping cough
- an antibacterial agent for diphtheria, pneumonia, tuberculosis, and nasal polyps
- topical applications for eczema, ringworm, acne, skin ulcerations, baldness, and skin cancer
- an anti-inflammatory solution for rheumatism
Native American use of bloodroot influenced many of the Western applications of this plant. It was suspected to have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anticancer effects.
Bloodroot has numerous traditional uses, but contemporary research has revealed various side effects that suggest the plant should be avoided.
Bloodroot was added to oral health products in the early 1980s and promoted as an active antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory agent (
A small number of studies have shown bloodroot to reduce dental plaque, treat gingivitis, and protect your gums from damage. It was believed to work best when bloodroot toothpaste and mouthwash were used together (
However, bloodroot was removed from the North American oral health market in 2001 after studies linked it to the formation of precancerous lesions called leukoplakia. Since then, it has not reappeared in the global market (
Skin care products that use bloodroot in their formulas claim to have a range of therapeutic benefits, such as clearing or removing eczema, acne, psoriasis, moles, warts, skin tags, and unhealthy skin cells, as well as disinfecting cuts (
Yet, no clinical studies support its efficacy or safety for these topical uses (
Moreover, although bloodroot compounds are believed to have strong antioxidant and antimicrobial effects, incorrect use has been tied to the formation of scars and contact dermatitis (
Improper use can be as simple as using too much, as bloodroot may have powerful effects. There’s no standard dose for topical bloodroot application.
Historically, bloodroot was ingested to treat respiratory conditions like the flu, common cold, asthma, sore throat, sinus infections, and lung infections (1).
However, these uses were informed by case studies published in medical journals in the 1800s (
No current clinical studies indicate that bloodroot treats any respiratory condition.
Bloodroot may aid heart health by interacting with various pathways that regulate blood pressure, thereby helping lower this health marker. However, overuse may lead to a dangerous drop in blood pressure (
Test-tube and animal studies also suggest that a compound in bloodroot may have antiplatelet effects, thereby lowering your risk of blocked arteries (
One test-tube study on the use of isolated sanguinarine found that a compound in bloodroot may also aid your heart’s ability to work harder. This is known as a positive inotropic effect, whereby your heart can pump more blood with fewer heartbeats (
Effects on cancer
Black salve, a potent mixture of bloodroot and zinc chloride, has been used as a treatment for skin cancer since the 17th century. However, it should be avoided, as no clinical studies show it to be useful. Indeed, it may be quite dangerous (12).
Animal and test-tube studies suggest that sanguinarine, the main alkaloid in bloodroot, may trigger cell death and slow cancer growth via various molecular processes (
Test-tube studies likewise suggest that protopine, another bloodroot alkaloid, may prevent breast cancer cells from spreading (1,
Yet, these studies aren’t sufficient evidence for any human applications. Health experts generally recommend that people avoid any products containing sanguinarine.
No research supports claims that bloodroot can treat skin and respiratory conditions. However, studies indicate a link between some bloodroot alkaloids and heart health.
Bloodroot and bloodroot products like black salve may have a number of dangerous side effects. As such, it’s important to be aware of their risks — and certain products like black salve are best avoided.
Be sure to speak with a healthcare professional before adding any bloodroot products to your routine.
Topical side effects and cancer risk
The side effects of black salve may include ulceration, abnormal skin pigmentation, scarring, and secondary infection (
Case studies and test-tube research suggest that high doses of black salve may cause nonspecific cell damage, as it doesn’t differentiate between cancerous and healthy cells (
Black salve is often mixed with additional botanical and synthetic compounds, many of which haven’t been tested for their mutagenic or carcinogenic potential (
Moreover, one study showed that during the time that bloodroot was used in oral health products, people were 8–11 times more likely to develop precancerous mouth lesions (
Ingested side effects
It’s potentially unsafe to take bloodroot products orally while breastfeeding, as older research indicates that its compounds may be transferred to infants via breastmilk (20).
Thus, you should avoid bloodroot if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.
Due to its ability to lower blood pressure, bloodroot may result in dangerously low blood pressure if taken alongside blood-pressure-lowering medication. It may also strengthen the effects of anticoagulant medications like warfarin.
Bloodroot’s ability to influence heart contractions makes it unsafe to use alongside heart failure medications.
Furthermore, older studies suggest that it raises tension in your eyes, potentially counteracting glaucoma treatment (
Bloodroot has several concerning side effects and may interact with some drugs. It’s best to avoid bloodroot if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.
Insufficient research exists on bloodroot to prescribe specific dosages for its potential treatments (16).
Moreover, the potency of its plant compounds may differ almost 10-fold depending on the season, harvest, and plant (
Test-tube studies indicate that the alkaloid sanguinarine in bloodroot is safest and most effective at levels below 5 mcg. Still, further research is needed (
Bloodroot comes in several forms, including teas, powder, and tinctures. It’s also mixed with other ingredients to create pastes and ointments.
It can be ingested or applied directly to your skin.
Bloodroot can be purchased from certain alternative medicine suppliers, as well as online. Yet, due to a lack of regulation, it may be difficult to determine whether bloodroot products are pure and free of contaminants.
Always speak with a healthcare professional before trying any new supplement, including bloodroot. Never take more than the recommended dose.
Bloodroot can be taken internally or applied topically. However, there’s insufficient data to establish proper dosage guidelines.
Bloodroot, a plant native to North America with telltale reddish roots, has long been used in traditional medicine for its alleged anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.
Nonetheless, there’s insufficient evidence to support most of its purported benefits. Importantly, certain bloodroot preparations like black salve may be dangerous.
Thus, it’s best to speak to a health professional before trying bloodroot, as well as avoid bloodroot products if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.