Herb: Blood Root

Latin name: Sanguinaria canadensis

Family: Papaveraceae (Poppy Family)

Medicinal use of Blood Root:

Blood root was a traditional remedy of the native North American Indians who used it to treat fevers and rheumatism, to induce vomiting and as an element in divination. In modern herbalism it is chiefly employed as an expectorant, promoting coughing and the clearing of mucus from the respiratory tract. The root is locally anaesthetic, cathartic, emetic, emmenagogue, expectorant, diuretic, febrifuge, sedative, stimulant, tonic. It is taken internally in the treatment of bronchial, respiratory tract and throat infections, and poor peripheral circulation. Use with caution and preferably only under the guidance of a qualified practitioner. The root is toxic, containing a number of opium-like alkaloids that are also found in other members of this family. An excessive dose depresses the central nervous system, causes nausea and vomiting, and may prove fatal. This remedy should not be prescribed for pregnant or lactating women. Externally, the root is used in the treatment of skin diseases, warts, nasal polyps, benign skin tumours, sore throats and chilblains. An infusion of the root or the sap of the fresh root is used. The root can be harvested in the autumn, dried and stored for later use. It should not be allowed to become damp since it will then deteriorate. Sanguinarine, which is obtained from the root, is used as a dental plaque inhibitor. The root is used to make a homeopathic remedy that is used to treat migraine.

Description of the plant:


20 cm
(7 3/4 inch)


Habitat of the herb:

Rich soils in open broad-leaved woodland and on shaded slopes.

Other uses of Blood Root:

A red dye is obtained from the sap of the root. It was used as a face paint by the North American Indians. Caution is advised, see notes on toxicity. The crushed root has been applied to the body as an insect repellent. Caution is advised, see notes on toxicity.

Propagation of the herb:

Seed - can be sown in the spring or late summer in an outdoor seedbed. We would advise sowing in pots in a cold frame, preferably as soon as the seed is ripe, otherwise in late winter. Stratification can improve germination rates. The seed produces a root after the first stratification but then requires a warm period and another cold one before a shoot is produced. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow them on for at least their first winter in pots. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late summer as they die down. Division in August after the leaves die down, or in early spring. The plant has brittle roots and so should be handled carefully. Cuttings of half-ripe shoots in late spring in a frame.

Cultivation of Blood Root:

Rich soils in open broad-leaved woodland and on shaded slopes.

Known hazards of Sanguinaria canadensis:

This species contains many alkaloids and is poisonous in large doses. This herb should not be used by women when they are pregnant or lactating. The sap, fresh or dried, can cause intense irritation to the mucous membranes.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.