An Overview of the Bloodroot Plant

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Bloodroot is a plant where the stem is often used to make medications. It is believed to help with many ailments, including tooth pain, headaches, skin problems, muscle and joint pain, breathing problems, fevers, and even cancer. This is because it contains chemicals that may help with fighting bacteria and inflammation.

Bloodroot is not without its side effects and adverse effects. Therefore, its use for some ailments may do more harm than good. 

Bloodroot is a wildflower that grows in the eastern parts of the United States and Canada. Its stem, called the rhizome, secretes a bright red latex compound when cut. That liquid compound is what gives the plant its name. Bloodroot’s scientific name is Sanguinaria canadensis. During the fall months, the root and rhizome of the bloodroot plant are collected for use in medicines.

Uses and Health Benefits

Bloodroot has been believed to have a number of health benefits. Many of these potential benefits have been promoted by traditional medicine practitioners. 

Cancer Prevention and Treatment

One chemical compound in bloodroot, berberine, has been connected to reducing the size of cancerous cells in prostate cancer. Berberine has also been connected in prevention and treatment of other cancers, including breast cancer and skin cancer, but there is little research to confirm anything specific.

Other studies show bloodroot can inhibit tumor growth, thereby possibly preventing some types of cancer. While the research is promising, the process and anti-cancer properties of bloodroot are not clearly understood. Moreover, much of the research on bloodroot as a cancer treatment has been on animal models. Using bloodroot to treat cancer in humans may have adverse effects. 

Some veterinary practices use bloodroot containing natural treatments to treat cancer in pets. These treatments should not be used in pregnant animals. They have also been known to cause eye ulcers and should be kept away from the eyes. Nausea is a side effect of using bloodroot for pet cancer treatment.

Dental Health

Some evidence shows bloodroot can help prevent and treat gingivitis and other gum infections. It may also help to reduce plaque. One report in Phytotherapy Research suggests using dental cleaning products containing Sanguinaria canadensis is more effective than using products without it. 

While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has deemed bloodroot generally safe, it appears many dental products no longer contain Sanguinaria canadensis. This likely due to studies that have found a connection between oral leukoplakia and sanguinarine-containing toothpastes and mouthwashes. Oral leukoplakia causes lesions to develop in the mouth that appear as thick white patches.  These lesions might be associated with oral cancer and are sometimes called pre-cancer lesions. 

Respiratory Wellness

Bloodroot is often used to treat the flu, common cold, sinus issues, and lung infections. It may act as an expectorant, a medicine that eliminates phlegm and mucus to clear air pathways in the body.

Research also shows Sanguinaria canadensis has positive inotropic effects. Positive inotropic agents increase the strength of muscular contractions in the heart muscle, which may prevent and treat respiratory problems. There has been little research and/or evidence bloodroot can help with coughs or in managing respiratory health. 

Heart Health

Bloodroot has positive cardiovascular and blood pressure effects. The chemical compounds in bloodroot can help to slow the blood and reduce heart strain. This means it may help in preventing heart disease and lessening the effects of atherosclerosis, a condition that causes buildup of fats and cholesterol in the walls of the arteries.

The research on any connection between bloodroot and heart health is speculative at best and more is needed to confirm therapeutic benefits, if any.  Further, when bloodroot is used in high doses, it may negatively affect liver and respiratory health. High doses have been connected to cardiovascular episodes and, in rare cases, comas.   Bloodroot may cause hypotension (low blood pressure) in some people. 

Skin Problems

Bloodroot has been used in many topical skin products because it contains high amounts of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. It can treat and reduce the effects of a variety of skin conditions, from eczema to psoriasis and even tumors, skin lesions, and warts.

Bloodroot has also been known for helping with acne and reducing aging effects on the skin. Bloodroot lotions should be used sparingly as using too much could irritate the skin. It can cause potentially serious skin reactions and/or eat away at flesh if used excessively. 

Headaches and Migraines

Bloodroot’s anti-inflammatory effects can ease the pain of headaches and migraines. It works by reducing inflammatory compounds and offering some analgesic relief.

Arthritis Pain Relief

Bloodroot pastes seem to be popular for managing arthritis pain and inflammation, although the research appears to be limited for confirming any truth behind this idea. At least one report shows Zeel, a homeopathic medicine used for treating arthritis pain, contains Sanguinaria canadensis and has long been shown to help manage arthritis symptoms. Unfortunately, there are no newer recent studies confirming bloodroot can help reduce inflammation or treat arthritis pain. 

Where to Find Bloodroot

Bloodroot is available commercially as a powder, extract solution, and supplement capsules. It is available for purchase in health foods stores and with many online retailers. However, it is important to make sure to select products from reputable manufacturers and follow recommended doses. 

Bloodroot rhizome is available at nurseries in certain parts of the United States, including in the Midwest and Appalachian regions, and some of these local nurseries may sell dry rhizome online. Dry rhizome can be used to make a bloodroot tea by adding one teaspoon of rhizome to one cup of boiling water and letting it steep for at least 10 minutes. 

Is Bloodroot Safe?

Bloodroot is generally safe for most healthy adults when taken in the short-term and in supplement form. The bloodroot plant or exact can cause skin or eye rash so it is best to keep it away from the skin and eyes. It may also cause stomach discomfort. 

Bloodroot should not be used long-term to avoid toxicity. It is also toxic when taken in large doses. Symptoms of toxicity include:

  • Dizziness
  • Blurry vision
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Feeling faint
  • Dilated pupils
  • Diarrhea

Anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek medical attention right away.

Women who are breastfeeding or pregnant should not use bloodroot. It is also not recommended for children without medical supervision. Further, it should be avoided by anyone taking blood clotting medications, as bloodroot may interact with these or flare up the condition being treated. Bloodroot could also interfere with the effects of anti-arrhythmic drugs (medications that treat abnormal heart rhythms).     

Bloodroot may affect glaucoma treatment. People with this eye disease should not use bloodroot without first speaking to an eye specialist or other treating physician.

A Word From Verywell

Bloodroot may have impressive health benefits, but there are side effects, adverse effects and the potential for toxicity. It is a powerful plant and can be dangerous if taken incorrectly, too long, and/or in large does. Further, these is little research to back up many of the claims on potential health benefits. 

Bloodroot may help some people, but it may cause adverse effects in others. Therefore, as with any natural supplement or treatment, it is a good idea to talk to a doctor before using bloodroot in any form, especially to treat a medical condition. Moreover, the FDA does not monitor the quality and purity of herbal treatments, so it is possible for these products to contain contaminants.

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