Other Names bloodwort, red puccoon root, pauson, tetterwort, sweet slumber, snakebite, indian paint, coon root
Bloodroot is an herbaceous flowering perennial native to the Eastern North American woodlands. This is a very pretty little plant that grows a single, deeply lobed palmate leaf from a basal stem that wraps around the white 8-petaled ray-type flower as it appears in very early spring (March-May) and disappears quickly. The leaf opens wider as the flower grows on its single stem an inch or two above it, like a lady shedding her mantle and tossing it behind her which then becomes a pedestal for the flower to stand on. The whole thing is only about six inches tall. The flowers, which are pollinated by bees and flies, disappear by mid-May or so and then the leaf itself goes dormant by midsummer, leaving only the elongated green seed pods above ground to ripen. These attract ants who take them back to their nests and eat the fleshy/fruity part before throwing the seed into the ant garbage pile where it then germinates.
Double-blooming varieties of bloodroot have been developed for the garden trade. These bloom much longer than the wild type.
The root is a rhizome that stores a bright red sap, reminiscent of blood, which gives the plant its name. It grows just below the surface of the soil. They form colonies that become small mounds or clumps that look just beautiful in the early spring.
History and Folklore
Bloodroot is a native American wildflower that was used by the native population for red dye. It was apparently used as body paint as well, though it must have been cut with some other ingredient to prevent serious skin damage.
Bloodroot has enjoyed a long history of traditional medicinal use, but lately has come under fire due to its caustic nature. It has been used in toothpaste and most recently as an antibacterial agent in meat production in Europe.
Bloodroot is a native American plant that can be found growing wild in hardwood forests throughout Eastern North America. However, because it is collected by many herbalists and magic-users and because of habitat loss, I do not suggest gathering this plant from the wild. Unlike many wildflowers, it is relatively easy to grow in a shady spot in your yard. You may be able to purchase plants from a plant conservancy or a native plant dealer in your area. Do not take bloodroot from the woods or from parks. Unless you have the permission of the landowner, this is illegal.
You can propagate bloodroot by seed or by cuttings or by division. It will spread by its rhizomes and its seeds forming lovely clumps.
Bloodroot likes a shady position in a well-drained, slightly acidic soil with high organic content. It likes to be grown with other plants, and black cohosh is a wonderful companion for bloodroot. It generally prefers to be kept moist but is pretty forgiving. You’ll want to mulch well with dead lives or wood chips to give it the feeling of being in the woods.
Don’t worry if your plant seems to die in the summer. It does go dormant and will probably return in the spring.
The roots grow a bit bigger each year and are best harvested around the sixth year. You should divide your clumps every 4 years or so to keep them vigorous.
Bloodroot is very attractive to slugs. If they become a problem, fill a tuna can with beer and half bury it near the bloodroot.
Harvesting & Storage
After harvesting, wash the roots thoroughly taking care not to bruise or break the skin. Lay on a screen to dry in a warm place with good airflow. Protect the roots from light and humidity. Roots are done drying when they have shrunk 1/4 of their original size and can be bent without breaking. The dried bloodroots can be stored in paper or cardboard away from heat, moisture or light for up to two years.
Bloodroot is a popular protective hex-breaker for rootwork magic. It is also a marriage protector and aids in promoting harmony with extended family members, especially in-laws and helps prevent people from interfering in your marriage.
Bloodroots vary in color with the darker red to brownish roots being considered male or King roots and the lighter orange to pinkish roots being considered female or Queen roots. Combined in a single sachet of red flannel, these are used to encourage a healthy marital sex life by placing the sachet under the couple’s mattress. Likewise, a bit of one of each root steeped in liquor, sometimes in combination with other herbs, is said to ensure sexual potency. After the herbs have steeped for several weeks, strain and drink a shot of the liquor to achieve the desired effect.
Place bloodroot over your door to encourage anyone who enters to respect your marriage.
If you fear someone is trying to break up your marriage, sew some dried bloodroot into yours and your spouse’s pillows.
Bloodroot can be carried or placed around the home (very high out of the reach of pets and children) as general protection from negative energy or spells or it can be burned to cleanse an area of negative energy.
Assuming you’re not expected to eat it or rub it on your body, bloodroot can be used in place of blood in spells. Dried bloodroot can be pounded into powder and added to water to reach the desired consistency.
The red root sap yields an interesting but caustic red dye. It can be used to stain wood as well.
Healing Attributes and Toxicity
Most of the active constituents of bloodroot is stored in the rhizome. This sap is very toxic. It contains morphine-like compounds and also destroys animal tissue. It is traditionally used in herbal medicine as a component to ointments designed to destroy abnormal skin growths such as melanoma, warts and skin tags. This is an extremely painful process and can result in serious scarring if not done properly. The FDA has investigated and prosecuted practitioners for carrying out this particular remedy.
However, the FDA has approved sanguinarine, a constituent in bloodroot sap, for use in toothpaste and mouthwash to help destroy plaque, though it has been linked to oral lesions.
Bloodroot has also been used for sore throats, the juice dropped onto lumps of maple sugar which is then sucked. It is also said to have expectorant and emetic properties.
It is my opinion, however, that Bloodroot should only be used for its ornamental and magical values and should never be applied to the skin or taken internally and should not be handled by pregnant women. Long term use of bloodroot has been linked to oral cancer, glaucoma, edema, heart disease, miscarriage, fainting, collapse, vision changes and diarrhea.