Common Names

The bloodroot is known by a variety of names, among which are red-indian paint, sweet slumber, redroot, turmeric, and snake-bite.

Bloodroot

Bloodroot - Plate XVIII

Description

The bloodroot is one of our earliest and loveliest spring flowers. On its first appearance above ground, the flower bud is entirely surrounded by the grey-green leaf. The upper and smoother side of the leaf is next the flower. The lower side of the leaf is covered with a network of prominent veins. As the leaf unfolds, the flower bud is brought into view. The two pale-green sepals entirely surround the eight white petals in the bud, but when the flower expands, the sepals are no longer needed and fall from the plant. The seed pods are long, narrow, pale-green, and contain shining red-brown seeds. The perennial rootstock is thick, short, dark red on the outside, and brighter red and orange within. When any part of the fresh plant is bruised or broken, there exudes a characteristic reddish juice. The flowers are out in April and May.

Distribution

Bloodroot is a native of Canada, and is found in rich open woods from Nova Scotia to Manitoba.

Poisonous Properties

The whole plant contains an acrid, orange-red latex or milky juice, which is extremely irritating to the skin, particularly if the skin is bruised or broken. It contains an acrid, bitter substance known as sanguinarin. The rootstock also contains the alkaloids chelery-thrine, homochelidonine, and protopine. It is hardly likely to be eaten, as it has a repulsive appearance and a very bitter taste. It is used medicinally, and Johnson records fatal cases from overdoses.

Symptoms

Millspaugh states that "Sanguinaria, in toxic doses, causes a train of symptoms showing it to be an irritant; it causes nausea, vomiting, sensations of burning in the mucous membranes whenever it comes in contact with them, faintness, vertigo, and insensibility. It reduces the heart's action and muscular strength, and depresses the nerve force, central and peripheral. Death has occurred from overdoses, after the following sequence of symptoms: violent vomiting, followed by terrible thirst and great burning in the stomach and intestines, accompanied by soreness over the region of these organs; heaviness of the upper chest, with difficult breathing; dilation of the pupils; great muscular prostration; faintness and coldness of the surface, showing that death follows from cardiac paralysis."