Bloodroot is a perennial flowering herb that was widely used by Native Americans both as a reddish-orange dye and as a medicine. Some tribes drank bloodroot tea as a treatment for sore throats, fevers, and joint pain, while others applied the somewhat caustic sap to skin cancers. European herbalists used bloodroot to treat respiratory infections, asthma, joint pain, warts, ringworm, and nasal polyps.
In the mid 1800s, a Dr. Fells of Middlesex Hospital in London developed a treatment consisting of a paste of bloodroot, flour, water, and zinc chloride applied directly to breast tumors and other cancers. Similar formulations were used in various locales up through the turn of the century. Today, bloodroot is still a common constituent of folk medicine "drawing salves" said to pull tumors out of the body.
What Is Bloodroot Used for Today?
Herbalists frequently recommend bloodroot pastes and salves for the treatment of warts. Bloodroot is an escharotic, that is to say a scab-producing substance, and it functions much like commercial wart plasters containing salicylic acid. Although there has not been any real scientific study of the use of bloodroot for warts, based on its escharotic effects, it could be helpful.
One constituent of bloodroot, sanguinarine, appears to possess topical antibiotic properties.1 On this basis, the FDA has approved the use of bloodroot in commercially available toothpastes and oral rinses to inhibit the development of dental plaque and periodontal disease (gingivitis). However, the evidence that it really helps remains incomplete and inconsistent.7,8 On a similar note, one very preliminary study found suggestive evidence that use of a toothpaste containing sanguinaria plus fluoride is more effective for cavity prevention than fluoride alone.9
Bloodroot is also often combined with other herbs in cough syrups. Some herbalists recommend drinking bloodroot tea for respiratory ailments, but others consider the herb to be too unpredictable in its side effects.
For the treatment of warts, bloodroot can be made into a paste and applied directly to the involved area. However, it's important to start slowly to see how sensitive you are. Excessive application can lead to severe burns. Once you've discovered your tolerance, you can apply the herb for a day or so, then remove it and wait for the scab to develop and then drop off. This process is repeated until the wart is gone.
Bloodroot tea for internal use is made by boiling 1 teaspoon of powdered root in a cup of water and taken 2 or 3 times daily.
Oral bloodroot appears to be relatively safe and nontoxic.2,3,4 However, in large doses, it causes nausea and vomiting, and even at lower dosages it has been reported to cause peculiar side effects in some people, such as tunnel vision and pain in the feet. For this reason, many herbalists recommend that it be used only under the supervision of a qualified practitioner.
Topical applications of bloodroot can cause severe burns if used too vigorously and for too long a time. Despite some reassuring evidence from animal studies,5 there are still theoretical concerns that bloodroot could be harmful during pregnancy.6 Safety in young children, nursing women, or those with severe liver or kidney disease has also not been established.
1. Godowski KC. Antimicrobial action of sanguinarine. J Clin Dent. 1989;1:96-101.
2. Newall C, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-Care Professionals. London, England: Pharmaceutical Press; 1996:42-43.
3. Keller KA, Meyer DL. Reproductive and developmental toxicological evaluation of sanguinaria extract. J Clin Dent. 1989;1:59-66.
4. Schwartz HG. Safety profile of sanguinarine and sanguinaria extract. Compend Contin Educ Dent. 1986;Suppl 7:S212-S217.
5. Keller KA, Meyer DL. Reproductive and developmental toxicological evaluation of sanguinaria extract. J Clin Dent. 1989;1:59-66.
6. Newall C, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-Care Professionals. London, England: Pharmaceutical Press; 1996:42-43.
7. Kopczyk RA, Abrams H, Brown AT, et al. Clinical and microbiological effects of a sanguinaria-containing mouthrinse and dentifrice with and without fluoride during 6 months of use. J Periodontol. 1991;62:617-622.
8. Kuftinec MM, Mueller-Joseph LJ, Kopczyk RA. Sanguinaria toothpaste and oral rinse regimen clinical efficacy in short- and long-term trials. J Can Dent Assoc. 1990;56(7 Suppl):31-33.
9. Hong SJ, Jeong SS, Song KB et al. Effects of sanguinaria in fluoride-containing dentifrices on the remineralisation of subsurface carious lesion in vitro. Int Dent J. 2005;55:128-132.
Last reviewed December 2015 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
Last Updated: 12/15/2015
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