Bloodroot is a wildflower that the Native Americans used for many medicinal purposes. Bloodroot grows in the eastern part of the United States and blooms in the early portion of spring. Long known for its medicinal qualities by both native people and settlers, bloodroot is almost extinct in some parts of its range from people collecting it.
The woodlands of eastern North America are home to the bloodroot plant. It exists from southern Nova Scotia into New England and down the Atlantic Seaboard into northern Florida. The plant's range extends westwards as far as Arkansas in the South and Manitoba in its northern range. Bloodroot grows best in a semi-shaded area with moist soil. The presence of trees does not bother it but it will be more abundant where the trees are not thickly spaced.
Bloodroot is among the earliest flowers to bloom, appearing in March even before the threat of frost has passed. It will pop out of the ground in February and develop buds by early march. The leaves are tubular when they first appear and wrap themselves around the base of the plant. By the middle of March, the buds open to reveal a delicate and fragile white flower. The flower closes at night.
The flower of the bloodroot grows on a stalk as high as 10 inches. The leaf, which continues to develop long after the flower fades and perishes, is about 8 inches wide. The root of the plant is hardy and allows the plant to come back year after year. The root is a thickened kind of rhizome, as big around as a finger, and it has numerous fibrous roots around it. It is a red-orange color. The plant will produce a milky orange sap.
The Algonquin Indians called bloodroot "Paucoon" and many tribes used it for various purposes. Bloodroot served as an astringent and the Native Americans utilized it to cause miscarriages, treat bits from snakes, and kill ringworm. The root itself produced a brilliant dye that the men of different tribes would employ to make war paint. The English brought the plant back to their native land and it first showed up in gardens overseas around 1680.
Benefits and Warnings
Bloodroot has the ability to destroy tissue, as shown by its use to deal with warts, polyps and fungal growths. The bloodroot may have value as a treatment for cancer. In the past bloodroot extract was an ingredient in mouthwashes and toothpastes to help battle plaque and diseases like gingivitis. Due to the toxicity of the plant, people should avoid taking it internally. The Federal Drug Administration considers bloodroot as unsafe and warns people not to ingest it.