Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canandensis) is a beautiful spring ephemeral found throughout our area growing in moist woodlands and along streams. The genus name –sanguinarius- is Latin for “bleeding” and refers to the blood-red juice present in the roots and orange-red in the stems.
Historically, the root has been used as an appetite stimulant, arterial sedative, insect repellent, and an emetic, in treating rheumatism, asthma, bronchitis, lung ailments, as an ingredient in cough medicines, toothpaste, and mouthwash, applied to warts and fungal growths, used as a skin dye and to dye baskets and clothing, AND even as a love potion…whew!
Despite the plants properties as anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiseptic, anesthetic, anti-plaque and anti-cancer, it is NO LONGER RECCOMENDED for any medicinal use. There is evidence that bloodroot produces precancerous oral lesions when used in toothpaste and mouthwash. It also produces a positive opiate test in urinalysis since it is a member of the poppy family. Besides the danger of ingesting or using topically, blood root is protected from harvesting in NY and in many other states.
The bright white fragile flowers produce pollen, but no nectar. Pollinators are specific to those insects not seeking nectar.
More amazing bloodroot lore is that its seeds are spread by ants. This mutualistic behavior is called myrmecochory. The majority of myrmecochory plants are spring ephemerals in the northeast. The seeds produce a fleshy appendage, called an elaiosome, which is rich in fats and proteins. The ants eat the elaiosomes and then discard the seeds in the nest debris, which are like little underground compost heaps. The seeds can then germinate in these protected enriched soils.
We appreciate getting out in nature more than ever, and the more we learn, the more amazing we find nature to be. On your next hike keep a lookout for bloodroot and all our other beautiful spring plants.