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Subject: North American Atlantic Region, Orange-root, Sialogogue, Mohs surgery, Leukoplakia
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Sanguinaria canadensis

Secure  (NatureServe)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
Order: Ranunculales
Family: Papaveraceae
Genus: Sanguinaria
Species: S. canadensis
Binomial name
Sanguinaria canadensis

Sanguinaria canadensis (bloodroot)[1] is a perennial, herbaceous flowering plant native to eastern North America. It is the only species in the genus Sanguinaria, included in the family Papaveraceae, and most closely related to Eomecon of eastern Asia.

Sanguinaria canadensis is also known as bloodwort,[1] redroot,[1] red puccoon,[1] and sometimes pauson. It has also been known as tetterwort,[1] although that name is also used to refer to Chelidonium majus. Plants are variable in leaf and flower shape and have in the past been separated out as different subspecies due to these variable shapes. Currently most taxonomic treatments include these different forms in one highly variable species. In bloodroot, the juice is red and poisonous.[2]


  • Description 1
  • Distribution and habitat 2
  • Ecology 3
  • Cultivation 4
  • Toxicity 5
    • Toxicity to animal cells 5.1
  • Uses 6
    • Alternative medicine 6.1
    • Commercial uses 6.2
    • Plant dye 6.3
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


Bloodroot grows from 20 to 50 cm (7.9 to 19.7 in) tall. It has one large basal leaf, up to 12 cm (4.7 in) across, with five to nine lobes. The leaves and flowers sprout from a reddish rhizome with bright orange sap that grows at or slightly below the soil surface. The rhizomes grow longer each year, and branch to form colonies. Plants start to bloom before the foliage unfolds in early spring. After blooming the leaves expand to their full size and go summer dormant in mid to late summer.

The flowers bloom from March to May depending on the region and weather. They have 8-12 delicate white petals and yellow stamens, and two sepals below the petals, which fall off after the flowers open. The flower stems are clasped by the leaves. The flowers are pollinated by small bees and flies. Seeds develop in green pods 40 to 60 mm (1.6 to 2.4 in) long, and ripen before the foliage goes dormant. The seeds are round and black to orange-red when ripe, and have white elaiosomes, which are eaten by ants.

Distribution and habitat

Bloodroot is native to eastern North America from Nova Scotia, Canada southward to Florida, United States, and west to Great Lakes and down the Mississippi embayment.

Sanguinaria canadensis plants are found growing in moist to dry woods and thickets, often on flood plains and near shores or streams on slopes. They grow less frequently in clearings and meadows or on dunes, and are rarely found in disturbed sites. Deer will feed on the plants in early spring.


Bloodroot is one of many plants whose seeds are spread by elaiosome that attracts ants. The ants take the seeds to their nest, where they eat the elaiosomes, and put the seeds in their nest debris, where they are protected until they germinate. They also benefit from growing in a medium made richer by the ant nest debris.


A double-flowered form

Sanguinaria canadensis is cultivated as an ornamental plant. The double-flowered forms are prized by gardeners for their large showy white flowers, which are produced very early in the gardening season. Bloodroot flower petals are shed within a day or two of pollination so the flower display is short lived, but the double forms bloom much longer than the normal forms. The double flowers are made up of stamens that have been changed into petal looking like parts, making pollination more difficult.

The cultivar S. canadensis f. multiplex 'Plena' has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.[3]


Bloodroot produces benzylisoquinoline alkaloids, primarily the toxin sanguinarine. The alkaloids are transported to and stored in the rhizome. Comparing the biosynthesis of morphine and sanguinarine, the final intermediate in common is (S)-reticuline.[4][5] A number of plants in Papaveraceae and Ranunculaceae, as well as plants in the genus Colchicum (family Colchicaceae) and genus Chondodendron (family Menispermaceae), also produce such benzylisoquinoline alkaloids.

Plant geneticists have identified and sequenced genes which produce the enzymes required for this production. One enzyme involved is CYP80B1,[6] which produces (S)-3'-hydroxy-N-methylcoclaurine and mendococlaurine from (S)-N-methylcoclaurine.

Toxicity to animal cells

Sanguinarine kills animal cells by blocking the action of Na+/K+-ATPase transmembrane proteins. As a result, applying bloodroot to the skin may destroy tissue and lead to the formation of a large scab, called an eschar. Bloodroot and its extracts are thus considered escharotic.

Internal use is inadvisable. Applying escharotic agents, including bloodroot, to the skin is sometimes suggested as a home treatment for skin cancer, these attempts can be severely disfiguring.[7] Salves derived from bloodroot cannot be relied on to remove an entire malignant tumor. Microscopic tumor deposits may remain after visible tumor tissue is burned away, and case reports have shown that in such instances tumor has recurred and/or metastasized.[8]


Alternative medicine

Bloodroot was used historically by Native Americans for curative properties as an emetic, respiratory aid, and other treatments.[9]

In physician William Cook's 1869 work The Physiomedical Dispensatory is recorded a chapter on the uses and preparations of bloodroot,[10] which described tinctures and extractions, and also included at least the following cautionary report:

The U. S. Dispensatory says four persons lost their lives at Bellevue Hospital, New York, by drinking largely of blood root tincture in mistake for ardent spirits [...]

Greater Celandine (Chelidonium majus), a member of the Poppy family (Papaveraceae) was used in Colonial America as a wart remedy. Bloodroot has been similarly applied in the past. This may explain the multiple American and British definitions of "Tetterwort" in 1913.

Bloodroot extracts have also been promoted by some supplement companies as a treatment or cure for cancer, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has listed some of these products among its "187 Fake Cancer 'Cures' Consumers Should Avoid".[11] Indeed, far from curing cancer, products containing bloodroot are strongly associated with the development of oral leukoplakia,[12] which is a premalignant lesion that may develop into oral cancer.

Canada puccoon by Sydenham Edwards from The Botanical Magazine (1791)

Commercial uses

Commercial uses of sanguinarine and bloodroot extract include dental hygiene products. The United States FDA has approved the inclusion of sanguinarine in toothpastes as an antibacterial or anti-plaque agent.[13][14][15][16] However, the use of sanguinaria in oral hygiene products is associated with the development of a premalignant oral leukoplakia,which may develop into oral cancer.[12][17] On 24 Nov 2003, the Colgate-Palmolive Company of Piscataway, New Jersey, United States commented by memorandum to the United States Food and Drug Administration that then-proposed rules for levels of sanguinarine in mouthwash and dental wash products were lower than necessary.[18] However, this conclusion is controversial.[19]

Some animal food additives sold and distributed in Europe contain sanguinarine and chelerythrine.

Plant dye

Bloodroot is a popular red natural dye used by Native American artists, especially among southeastern rivercane basketmakers.[20] A break in the surface of the plant, especially the roots, reveals a reddish sap which can be used as a dye.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e "USDA GRIN Taxonomy". 
  2. ^ "Bloodroot Wildflowers". 
  3. ^ "' 'Plenamultiplex f. Sanguinaria canadensis"RHS Plant Selector - . Retrieved 3 July 2013. 
  4. ^ Alcantara, Joenel; Bird, David A.; Franceschi, Vincent R.; Facchini, Peter J. (2005). "Sanguinarine Biosynthesis is Associated with the Endoplasmic Reticulum in Cultured Opium Poppy Cells after Elicitor Treatment". Plant Physiology 138 (1): 173–83.  
  5. ^ KEGG PATHWAY: Alkaloid biosynthesis I - Reference pathway
  7. ^ Don't Use Corrosive Cancer Salves (Escharotics), Stephen Barrett, M.D.
  8. ^ McDaniel, S.; Goldman, GD (2002). "Consequences of Using Escharotic Agents as Primary Treatment for Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer". Archives of Dermatology 138 (12): 1593–6.  
  9. ^ Sanguinaria canadensis'Native American Ethnobotany (University of Michigan - Dearborn: . accessed 12.1.2011
  10. ^ Sanguinaria Canadensis'. | Henriette's Herbal Homepage
  11. ^ "187 Fake Cancer "Cures" Consumers Should Avoid". United States  
  12. ^ a b Bouquot, Brad W. Neville , Douglas D. Damm, Carl M. Allen, Jerry E. (2002). Oral & maxillofacial pathology (2. ed.). Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders. p. 338.  
  13. ^ Godowski, KC (1989). "Antimicrobial action of sanguinarine". The Journal of clinical dentistry 1 (4): 96–101.  
  14. ^ Southard, GL; Boulware, RT; Walborn, DR; Groznik, WJ; Thorne, EE; Yankell, SL (1984). "Sanguinarine, a new antiplaque agent: Retention and plaque specificity". Journal of the American Dental Association 108 (3): 338–41.  
  15. ^ How to Report Problems With Products Regulated by FDA
  16. ^ Kuftinec, MM; Mueller-Joseph, LJ; Kopczyk, RA (1990). "Sanguinaria toothpaste and oral rinse regimen clinical efficacy in short- and long-term trials". Journal of the Canadian Dental Association 56 (7 Suppl): 31–3.  
  17. ^ Leukoplakia, (pdf format) hosted by the American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology. Page accessed on December 19, 2006.
  18. ^ Letter to FDA, Collgate-Palmolive Company, 24 Nov. 2003
  19. ^ Letter to FDA, Professor George T. Gallagher, Boston University Goldman School of Dental Medicine, 23 June 2003.
  20. ^ Nolan, Justin. "Northeast Oklahoma, USA." Society of Ethnobotany. 2007 (retrieved 9 Jan 2011)

External links

  • (Bloodroot)Sanguinaria canadensiUSDA Plants Profile:
  • Flora of North America: Sanguinaria canadensiFlora profile of
  • Flora of North America: Distribution map
  • photographs and informationSanguinaria canadensiCT Botanical Society -
  • Bloodroot pictures and information
  • KEGG (Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes) - Alkaloid biosynthesis I - Reference pathway
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