Perennial plant growing to 6 in (15 cm). Has palm-shaped leaves and solitary flower stems bearing attractive white flowers with 8–12 petals.
Habitat & Cultivation
Native to northeastern North America, bloodroot grows in shady woods. It is cultivated as a garden plant. The rhizome is unearthed in summer or autumn.
Bloodroot contains isoquinoline alkaloids, notably sanguinarine (1%), and many others, including berberine. Sanguinarine is a strongly expectorant substance that also has antiseptic and local anaesthetic properties.
History & Folklore
Bloodroot was a traditional remedy of Native Americans, who used it to treat fevers and rheumatism, to induce vomiting, and as an element in divination. The rhizome’s bright red juice has been used as a rouge. From 1820 to 1926, bloodroot was listed as an expectorant in the Pharmacopoeia of the United States.
Medicinal Actions & Uses
In contemporary herbal medicine, bloodroot is chiefly employed as an expectorant, promoting coughing and the clearing of mucus from the respiratory tract. The plant is prescribed for chronic bronchitis and—as it also has an antispasmodic effect—for asthma and whooping cough. Bloodroot may also be used as a gargle for sore throats, and as a wash or ointment for fungal and viral skin conditions such as athlete’s foot and warts.
Take only under professional supervision and do not exceed the dose. Bloodroot induces vomiting in all but very small doses, and at excessive doses it is toxic. Do not take during pregnancy, while breastfeeding, or if suffering from glaucoma.