Bloodroot is native to eastern North America. It is named for its bright orange roots, which branch and spread to form large colonies. An yellow-orange dye is made from the roots.
Plants: 4½-16″ (12-40 cm) high.
Leaves: Each plant typically has a single leaf up to 4½″ (12 cm) across, with multiple rounded lobes.
They are bumpy on the upper surface, and the undersides are pale bluish green, with large
Young plants flower while the leaf is still tightly furled around the flower stem, like a
sheath, even though the leaf is on its own stem.
Flowers: White with a yellow center, with 8-15 petals, 6-10″ (15-25 cm) above
the ground, appearing from March to May. (Some cultivated varieties have doubled flowers, one right on
top of the other.) The petals are variable, sometimes fairly narrow and sharp-tipped;
others wider and more rounded.
Fruits: Shaped like a miniature cone or ear of corn,
about ¾-1″ (1.9-2.5 cm) long.
Medical: The reddish root sap is poisonous, producing
a burning sensation on the tongue. By some accounts it is harmful to the skin. Native peoples used the root sap to
treat rheumatism, asthma, fevers, bronchial ailments, and skin conditions. The sap was sometimes used
as a face and body paint. The Ponca tribe believed it to be
a kind of love potion as well. After applying some sap to their hand, they contrived to hold the
hand of a maiden they wished to marry, and after a few days, she would do so. Today’s
applications are more prosaic: an bloodroot alkaloid called sanguinarine is used in mouthwash
and toothpaste as a plaque inhibitor. We don’t recommend that you use it for anything, though,
since the FDA considers it “unsafe.”