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Peter came across this little white woodland wildflower on the Hungry Turtle property last week. For such an unassuming bloom, it has quite a story for itself. Bloodroot, or Sanguinaria canadensis, is a somewhat rare and, in some states, threatened plant that grows primarily in the Eastern U.S., with a preference for little-disturbed areas on hills and mountains.

This spring-flowering plant has also been called bloodwort, coon root, Indian paint, paucon, red puccoon, turmeric, red root, snakebite, king root, sweet slumber, and tetterwort. The name bloodroot, which seems to be the most widely applied common name for the plant, stems from the fact that the plant has a thick “root” – actually a rhizome – that is red-orange and fibrous. When cut, blood-red liquid runs out. This juice was used by Native Americans as body paint and as dye.

Of particular interest is the plant’s medicinal usage. A quick Google search reveals that one can buy bloodroot dried or as an extract from various suppliers, yet at the same time the FDA has deemed this plant unsafe, urging people and herbal healers not to use it (the one exception being as an ingredient in mouthwashes for its anti-plaque properties). Bloodroot has long been used by American Indian tribes and has been considered helpful for treating sore throats, fevers, ulcers, and skin conditions such as ringworm, warts, and fungus. It has even been used to treat various cancers, particularly skin cancer. Internal use and self-medicating with bloodroot are discouraged as an improper dosage of the plant may cause vomiting, distorted vision, and unconsciousness.

Now that all sounds a bit scary and controversial. Other intriguing lore includes the practice of keeping bloodroot nearby, even carrying it around, in order to attract love or offer protection; people would place the plant over doorways and windows. For now, we prefer to leave our white-petaled flowers and their mysterious, magical rhizomes on our wooded hillsides, where we might walk by and appreciate them in their natural habitat.

NC State University Horticulture Leaflets: Bloodroot
NPS: Shenandoah National Park: Bloodroot
USDA NRCS Plants Profile: Bloodroot
Wildflowers of the Southeastern U.S.