Bloodroot – Sanguinaria canadensis

Overall At-Risk Score: 47

Latin Name:

Sanguinaria canadensis var. rotundifolia

Common Name:

Bloodroot; Bloodworth, Red Root, Red Puccoon

Family:

Papaveraceae (Poppy Family)

Lifespan:

Perennial;

Reproduction:

Showy white, bisexual flowers appear in early spring and last only a day or two. Flowering normally occurs in March to April, and in May to June the plant develops cylindrical-teardrop shaped seed pods that ripen and open in July.

S. canadensis is a myrmecochoric plant, meaning its seed dispersal relies primarily on ants carrying away their seed and eating the rich lipid coating (or elaisome).

Geographic Region:

Bloodroot grows in a large region from Southern Manitoba in Canada to Southeastern Texas, and from South Dakota to the Atlantic Ocean. It is found in every state, except for Alaska, Hawaii, California, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.

It is found in the Canadian provinces of Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Quebec.

Habitat:

Bloodroot grows best in well-drained soils, and it prefers woods and thickets, but it can also be found in flood plains and along streams and fence lines.

Vulnerability of Habitat/Changes of Habitat Quality and Availability:

As a myrmecochoric plant, seed dispersal relies primarily on ants. The introduction of non-native invasive ants has threatened the effectiveness of this seed dispersal method, as non-native fire ant species often damage the seed when eating the elaiosome and frequently deposit seeds in unsuitable growing conditions. Just like many species in the Eastern Woodland region, the loss of habitat has had a great impact on S. canadensis populations, with the loss of open shaded woodlands to invasive shrubs and dense-growing trees.

Status of Endangered/Threatened (by state):

Bloodroot is “Exploitably Vulnerable” in New York and of “Special Concern” in Rhode Island.

Sanguinaria canadensis has not yet been evaluated by the IUCN Red List

Part of Plant Used/Active Medicinal Compounds:

Historically, parts of bloodroot were used by Native Americans to treat respiratory and gastrointestinal problems and to induce abortions in both people and horses. It is used by some in modern days as a natural animal feed additive and as part of antibacterial compounds in dental products. It is also found in some cough remedies and used as a homeopathic arthritis treatment.

The rhizome is a host of several active alkaloids. Sanguinarine and chelerythrine are the major quaternary benzophenanthridine alkaloids present in S. canadensis. It is important to note that the alkaloid Sanguinarine is toxic, causing the death of animal cells, and ingesting it can cause the disease epidemic dropsy.

Demand and Relative Acreage Needed to Meet Demand:

A vast majority of commercially harvested Bloodroot is exported to Europe to be used in livestock feed. It is not completely clear how much bloodroot is harvested each year. Various sources state that the number is anywhere from at least 38 to 55 tons a year. A report completed for the North Carolina Consortium on Natural Medicinal Products suggests that 135,000 pounds of bloodroot were sold to the industry back in 2001, with sales having risen since then.

Wild Harvesting Impact On Other Species:

Amateur harvesters and careless poachers can easily mistake Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla) with Bloodroot due to the visual similarities of the flowers, leaves, and roots, but twinleaf lacks the medicinal alkaloids and the deep red latex in its roots. J. diphylla is “Endangered” in Georgia and New Jersey and “Threatened” in Iowa and New York.

Recommendations for industrial and home use:

Sustainable cultivation of S. canadensis is incredibly important as demand for the plant increases, but almost all Bloodroot sold commercially is wild harvested. Please make sure all Bloodroot you acquire has been cultivated, or use alternative medicinal species. Always talk to your doctor before starting a new medical treatment, to make sure it won’t react poorly to yourself or any medicines you are taking.

Citations

  • Cech, R. 2002. Growing At-Risk Medicinal Plants. Horizon Herbs. Williams, OR.
  • eFloras. (n.d.). Sanguinaria canadensis in Flora of North America. Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA. Retrieved August 1, 2019, from http://www.efloras.org/florataxon.aspx?flora_id=1&taxon_id=220011939
  • Greenfield, J. and J M. Davis. 2003. Collection to commerce: western North Carolina non-timber forest products and their markets. A report prepared for the U.S. Forest Service. North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC.
  • Greenfield, J. and J.M. Davis (eds) 2003. Analysis of the economic viability of cultivating selected botanicals in North Carolina. A report commissioned from Strategic Reports for the North Carolina Consortium on Natural Medicinal Products by North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC.
  • Herrick, James William, 1977, Iroquois Medical Botany, State University of New York, Albany, PhD Thesis, pages 335-338.
  • National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Database. Sanguinarine, CID=5154, https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Sanguinarine (accessed on Aug. 1, 2019).
  • Persons, W.S., and J. M. Davis. 2005. Growing and Marketing Ginseng, Goldenseal and other Woodland Medicinals. Bright Mountain Books. Fairview, NC.
  • Rousseau, Jacques, 1947, Ethnobotanique Abenakise, Archives de Folklore 11:145-182, pages 154 and 167.
  • Sturdivant, L. and T . Blakley. 1999. Medicinal Herbs in the Garden, Field, and Marketplace. San Juan Naturals. Friday Harbor, WA.
  • Tantaquidgeon, Gladys, 1972, Folk Medicine of the Delaware and Related Algonkian Indians, Harrisburg. Pennsylvania Historical Commission Anthropological Papers #3, page 38.
  • US Department of Agriculture, Crops Research Division Agricultural Research Service. 1960. Index of Plant Diseases in the United States, Agriculture Handbook No. 165. Washington, DC.
    USDA. (n.d.). Plants Profile for Sanguinaria canadensis (bloodroot). Retrieved August 1, 2019, from https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile