Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)


Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) has been used historically by some Native American tribes as a medicinal agent to stimulate the digestive system and induce vomiting. It has also been used as an antimicrobial. More recently, the main active constituent of bloodroot, sanguinarine, has been added to dentifrices (used to clean teeth) to reduce plaque and treat gingivitis and periodontal disease. More research is needed in this area to determine sanguinarine's efficacy for these conditions, although there is some concern that chronic oral use of sanguinarine may cause leukoplakia (precancerous white patches in the mouth) and oral dysplastic lesions (abnormal mouth wounds).
In a report from 2003, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Dental Plaque Subcommittee of the Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committee concluded "...that sanguinaria extract at 0.03-0.075% concentration is safe, but there are insufficient data available to permit final classification of its effectiveness in an oral rinse or dentifrice dosage form as an [over the counter] antigingivitis/antiplaque active ingredient." However, expert opinion considers bloodroot unsafe when used internally. In 2005, legal action was taken against an unlicensed practitioner for prescribing bloodroot to several women with breast cancer who suffered disfigurement and tissue damage after topically using the cream.

Related Terms

Alkaloids, B. homochelidonine, benzylisoquinoline alkaloids, berbine, blood root, chelerythrine, chelilutine, chelirubine, coon root, Papaveraceae (family), paucon, pauson, protopine, pseudochelerythrine, puccoon, puccoon-root, red Indian paint, red puccoon, red resin, red root, redroot, SaE, SangrovitĀ®, sanguilutine, Sanguinaria canadensis, sanguinaria dentifrice, sanguinaria extract, sanguinarin, sanguinarine, sanguinarine chloride, sanguinarine hydroxide, sanguinarine nitrate, sanguinarine sulfate, sanguinarium, sanguiritrin, sanguirubine, sangvinarin, snakebite, sweet slumber, tetterwort, white puccoon.
Note: This monograph also discusses sanguinarine, an alkaloid of bloodroot, which is also found in other plants such as Mexican prickly poppy (Argemone mexicana), Chelidonium majus, and Macleaya cordata. However, Mexican sanguinaria extract (Polygonum aviculare L.) is not included, as it is not known to contain sanguinarine or other major constituents of bloodroot.

evidence table

These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
Plaque/ gingivitis (Grade: B)
Gingivitis is a bacterially-elicited inflammation of the marginal gingiva, and bloodroot has traditionally been associated with antimicrobial activity. Sanguinarine, a constituent of bloodroot, has been used as a toothpaste or mouthrinse ingredient. The results of these studies are mixed, and additional study is needed in this area to make a strong recommendation.
Periodontal disease (Grade: C)
Periodontal disease is a bacterially-elicited inflammation of the gingiva and periodontal tissue. Preliminary study has not suggested benefit of sanguinarine for this condition, although results are mixed. Additional study is needed.