Disclaimer: Bloodroot is an herb that is dangerous even in the hands of an expert. All information in this article is only presented as trivia and should not be mistaken for an endorsement of treatment for any medical conditions.
I think that one of the most beautiful plants in North America has to be Bloodroot. It’s simple and elegant. The showy bloom is balanced by a twin lobed leaf that rises up behind the flower like a cloak. The plan does gave a cultivated variety that produces a double flower.
The part that was foraged by our ancestors is rhizome, the underground stem. The juice of the rhizome is blood red and seems to be the main source of the medicinal products created from the plant. It’s this red juice that also gives theplant it’s English and Algonquin names.
The various eastern woodland tribes called the plant “Puccoon” which means red and this name seems to be used for multiple plants and fungi that produce a red stain. I suppose that the most interesting use was as a love charm. According to Peterson’s Field Guide, young men of the Ponca tribe would stain the palm of their hand with the plant and then try to shake hands with the girl they had eyes for. If the stain transferred and the magic worked she would fall madly in love with him and be unable to resist a marriage proposal. I have to wonder how many Ponca fathers made gentleman callers greet them with a friendly wave before being allowed anywhere near a daughter?
When Bloodroot wasn’t being used to steal a daughter, Native Americans used it as an insecticide, to treat coughs, fevers,as a wash for wounds, and as an emetic. I have not nor do I plan to taste this planet myself however a Google search does say that tasting it often leads to vomiting and nausea. Bloodroot was also used to remove warts. Which brings us to modern day.
Bloodroot is a major ingredient in what’s known as Black Salve (Warning, the link contains graphic images of damage to the person’s face). (please remember to pay attention to the disclaimer above.) Black Salve is an herbal preparation that is a “Traditional Treatment” for skin cancer. The active ingredient in Bloodroot is sanguinarine and it actually causes tissue necrosis. Basically, it causes the tissue surrounding the tumor to rot away until the tumor can be teased out of the hole. My first thought was that a scalpel in the hands of a skilled surgeon is probably going to be less traumatic that burning away the skin with a caustic chemical even if it is derived from nature.
However, Bloodroot was used in modern dentistry. According to a Web MD article Viadent at one point was using Bloodroot for its antimicrobial qualities to treat severe gingivitis. And prior to the Black Salve controversy Bloodroot capsules were available over the counter in stores and pharmacies. Many years ago I was employed by our local Walmart and stocked the shelves with it myself.
Although it’s now banned in some countries I found a listing on Amazon of $79/lbs. Which means that if a person could find a wholesale buyer it might be worth using as a cash forage plant however I wouldn’t recommend direct sales at this point because of hazards of liability and because the low demand wouldn’t be worth the effort unless you had a glut of it in your back yard.
Typically, I try to cover plants that are fairly easy to find and not really risky but when I stumbled across the Bloodroot I decided to post it as “forage trivia” for entertainment purposes. It’s not really one that can recommend actually digging unless you wish to transplant it as an ornamental plant.
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