The name bloodroot is derived from the similarity to blood of the red-orange sap oozing from the root of this herb. The medicinal parts are roots and the whole plant.

Other Names: Indian Paint, Tetterwort, Red Root, Paucon, Coon Root, Snakebite, Sweet Slumber, Indian Plant, Pauson, Sanguinaria

The drug was formerly used as an expectorant, as an active antiplaque agent, and as a mouthwash.

Blood Root as an Herb for Medicinal Uses

BloodrootBloodroot was a common Native American remedy for rheumatism. Internally it was used for sore throat, and to expel mucous from the respiratory system; the orange juice of the plant was dripped onto lumps of maple sugar and taken for coughs and colds.

Externally bloodroot was used as a poultice to treat skin problems and eruptions, skin ulcers, eczema, and slow-healing wounds.

The Potawatomis also made an infusion of the root for diptheria. The Penobscot strung pieces of the root together and wore around the neck to prevent bleeding. The Chippewa mixed it with blue cohosh in decoction form and took it for stomach cramps; the Seneca made a wash of the root with a small amount of wood ashes added and used it to wash the uterus during childbirth; for earache the Mohawk made an infusion of the dried root and placed a few drops in the ear.

Bloodroot is an important commercial source of sanguinarine which is a dental plaque inhibitor and added to some toothpaste brands and mouthwash.

The root has long been used by the American Indians as a dye for their bodies and clothes and has been used successfully by American and French dyers.

In Southern folk medicine (pre-Civil war), folk practitioners historically used the plant as a mouthwash. Possibly because it has an antiplaque agent and may be effective for gingivitis (Fleming 2000). They referred to it as “coon root”. Some used the roots to relieve leg cramps. They would also use it as both a poultice and to make a tea.

bloodrootContemporary medical applications include its use as an expectorant, treatment for respiratory problems and asthma, and as a gargle for sore throats. Modern science reports that bloodroot operates as an expectorant, mild antiseptic, and anesthetic (Chevallier 2000).

Culinary Uses of Bloodroot

Not recommended for culinary purposes.


In some tribes single men rubbed the juice of the bloodroot on their hands, then would find a way to shake hands with the girl of their desire. After 5 or 6 days of this behavior, it was believed the girl would be ready to marry the man. The Chippewa used it as a charm.

An intriguing practice was reported by John Smith in 1612 concerning Native Americans. A male guest would be given a bed. A native woman, painted with bloodroot and oil would be sent to him as a bedfellow. In 1729, Byrd’s survey party also encountered this custom. He stated that the ruffles of the men’s shirts were often tinged with red in the morning, much to the annoyance of the accompanying chaplain.

An old recipe of a Mrs. Razor for dying quills scarlet.

“2 handfuls bloodroot, 1 handful inner bark of wild plum, 1 handful red osier dogwood bark, 1 handful alder bark; all were boiled together with 1 quart of water before adding the quills. Also: to produce dark red = 1 handful bloodroot and 1 handful inner bark of wild plum in 1 quart water, boiled together. Also: to produce dark yellow = 2 handfuls shredded bloodroot, 1 handful shredded root of wild plum, boiled together in 1 quart of water”


Carry or wear bloodroot to draw love. Plant it near the doors of your house to protect your home.


Bloodroot is not to be used during pregnancy.

No health hazards or side effects are known in conjunction with the proper administration of designated therapeutic dosages.

In toxic doses (dosages above 0.03 g), bloodroot causes burning in the stomach, intense thirst, vomiting, faintness vertigo, intense prostration with dimness of eyesight.

Notable Note

Bloodroot is now considered a poisonous plant, and should only be used externally. It should not be placed undiluted on the skin. The drug is obsolete in most countries. Bloodroot is still used in homeopathic preparations, as an ingredient in some pharmaceutical preparations, and as a component of toothpaste and mouthwashes.

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