The Medicinal Plant Garden

of Birmingham-Southern College

  • Sanguinaria canadensis
  • Sanguinaria canadensis

Common Name

Bloodroot, blootwort, red puccoon, redroot, tetterwort, and blodort (USDA, et al 2013)

Related Species

According to the USDA, there are no related species.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat

According to Predny and Chamberlain (2005), Bloodroot can be found in Nova Scotia, all along the Eastern seaboard of the United States down into the Northern regions of Florida, and as far West as eastern Texas or western South Dakota. Bloodroot is found in rich wooded areas, along shaded streams, or in areas that alternate between sunny and shady (Predny and Chamberlain, 2005). Bloodroot prefers rich soil that is moist to wet, with a pH of 6.8 to 7.2 (Adleman and Schwartz, 2011).


Bloodroot is a perennial, hermaphridic, herb that typically blooms in early spring between March and April (Predny and Chamberlain, 2005; Adleman and Schwartz, 2011). Each plant contains one kidney shaped leaf, which encapsulates the single flower until it is ready to bloom (Adleman and Schwartz, 2011). The flower of the Bloodroot contains a yellow center surrounded by eight or more inch long white petals (Frick-Ruppert, 2010). The petals of the flower are known to open and close with the day and the night (Predny and Chamberlain, 2005). The Bloodroot gets its name from its characteristic red juice, which is released when the plant is injured (Frick-Ruppert, 2010).

Portion of the Plant Used

The alkaloids of Bloodroot reside in the root (Burgeiro et al., 2013).

Traditional Uses

Bloodroot had many uses in Native American culture, including but not limited to, cough medicine, respiratory aid, an aphrodisiac, and a red skin dye (Moerman, 1998). Presently, the alkaloids in Bloodroot have been used as a way to fight gingivitis and a way to prevent oral bacterial growth (Taheri et al., 2011). Bloodroot has been used in toothpaste and various other oral hygienic products (Halberstein, 2005). Bloodroot has been shown to have anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, and tumouricidal properties, which can be harnessed to treat a large spectrum of diseases from cancer to joint pain (Wang and Warshaw, 2012; Perera, 2013).


The chief active ingredient in bloodroot is the alkaloid sanguinarine (Newton et al., 2002), which has been the subject of a considerable amount of research. Sanguinarine induces apoptosis, disrupts microtubules, and has antimicrobial, antiplatelet, antihypertensive, and positive inotropic activities (reviewed in Mackraj et al., 2008). Gupta et al. (2010) and Slaninová (2013) review the antitumor properties and mechanism of action of sanguinarine and related compounds.

Side Effects, Interactions, and Contraindications

As sanguinarine causes apoptosis, it should not be surprising that S. canadensis has been associated with toxicity (Wang and Warshaw, 2012), and Mackraj et al. (2008) caution that additional rigorous tests of its efficacy and safety are required before it can be used therapeutically (Mackraj et al., 2008). Sanguinarine has disappeared from toothpastes at least in part because of its association with leukoplakia (Damm et al., 1999; Vlachojannis et al., 2012). Two particularly gruesome reports of topical toxicity are found in McDaniel and Goldman (2002) and Cienki and Zaret (2010).