Native American Medicine: Bloodroot

bloodroot photo

Sanguinarea canadensis

Photograph of bloodroot. This plant is indigenous to the Eastern region of the United States and Canada. It was used by Native Americans for treatment of cancer as well as moles and warts.

The medicinal uses of bloodroot were learned from Native Americans living in the region of Lake Superior . . . as well as the Cherokee further to the south although the Cherokee tended on the whole to prefer goldenseal. Both plants were called puccoon, red puccoon and yellow puccoon. Both are strong herbs with significant alkaloids that have been shown to be extremely effective in treating a wide range of conditions.

Bloodroot was prized for its root sap, an interesting exudate that remarkably resembles blood. The roots, usually used fresh, are made into washes, poultices, snuffs, dental powders, and escharotic salves, called red salve by Hoxsey, fixative paste by Dr. Frederic Mohs, black salve by some lay practitioners and Compound X or Indian Mud by others. bloodroot


Bloodroot as Sacred Medicine
I love bloodroot. After Kurt Lerner took the photographs, the root, which was grown in my garden in Santa Fe, New Mexico, was made into a poultice.

I have the greatest reverence for this plant, but it is not like any other herb I know. I am deliberately saying this in an intimate way.

Bloodroot is a shy plant. It grows in the shade, away from the noise and traffic of civilization. It likes moisture and seclusion. It flowers briefly and then even its leaves yellow and disappear. It is not like some members of the plant kingdom that are more overt, showy, and grabby for attention.

If you break the root, a sap pours forth that looks like blood. It even coagulates like blood. I channeled something on this and was given a wealth of information, mainly suggesting that people who are ready for an initiation of the spirit in which they surrender themselves to the purposes of their own souls and to God can be saved by this plant. Others should seek cures for their conditions in other ways.

Bloodroot from a Clinical Perspective

That's the metaphysical side. There is also a clinical side. Bloodroot is a systemic treatment. In all my years with herbs, I have never seen any herb absorbed so fast into the blood stream as bloodroot. Some people become nauseous after rubbing just a little tincture of bloodroot on the arches of their feet.

Bloodroot has been researched and determined to be a potent anticancer agent. Besides the laboratory tests, tens of thousands of people have been treated by lay practitioners as well as medical doctors for at least the last 150 years. Of these, roughly 80% experienced remission of malignancy and longer life expectancies than people with similar conditions who chose different treatments.

Still, it is always a matter of individual choice and for the 20% whose conditions were not ameliorated by bloodroot, it has to be said that the treatment is challenging and these people have every right to ask whether their efforts were warranted. Moreover, we never know before trying who will respond in the desired way and who will have to turn to some other treatment for relief.

Bloodroot Scientifically

bloodroot mash Bloodroot has significant anti-infective properties, so much so that it has been used in gangrenous situations in lieu of amputation. It has also traditionally been used on warts, fungoid tumors, nasal polyps, and periodontal infections, gingivitis, and plaque. With cancer, it has been shown to be most effective with carcinomas and sarcomas.

In my estimation, not enough is known about cancer. Even when a quite significant mass is analyzed, rarely is more than 20% of the mass determined to be cancerous, and in some cases, only a few atypical cells are found. The rest of the tumor may consist of infectious material, parasites, metabolic residuals, and other matter that is seldom described by pathologists. We have no way of knowing how bloodroot affects the terrain in which the malignancies are harbored.

My guess, and it is only a guess, is that many types of morbid conditions are highly reactive to bloodroot, this whether bloodroot is used internally or externally. My suspicion is that infection is just as reactive to bloodroot as cancer. When bloodroot is applied externally to a morbid area, the treatment site often becomes very inflamed and immunologically active almost immediately. When taken internally, many people begin to experience eruptions on the skin within hours or days, suggesting that bloodroot is a powerful mobilizer of diseased matter.

Bloodroot Treatment

When there is no real definition of the treatment site, i.e., when no one really knows how extensive the malignancy or infection is, it is virtually impossible to anticipate the size or nature of the reaction to bloodroot. When bloodroot is mixed with zinc chloride—as it usually is—reactions can be violent and unpredictable. Elsewhere on this site, I speculate about how and why this happens. I suspect it is because the morbidity is extensive, i.e., not as localized as the tumorous mass itself.

Where there is infection, toxicity, acidity, and various other conditions in the vicinity of the tumor, responses to bloodroot applications can take place in minutes and affect much more tissue than the actual site where the paste is applied. Then, depending on the product used and the skill of the person using the product, inflammation, pain, and ultimately scarring can be more than some people expect. It is for such reasons that I feel that most people should be treated by experts, people with experience in this particular treatment modality.

Other Concerns

Since reactions to bloodroot can be painful and highly inflammatory, it seems to me that those opting for this treatment need to be well-informed, prepared, resolute, and decisive. To me, it has never seemed like an option to start this treatment and quit though I know people who have started and then turned to surgery as well as those who interrupted the treatment for some weeks or months and later resumed it. The fact that they lived suggests that the treatment is not as dangerous as it looks, but it is also not for the faint of heart. I personally believe that those using bloodroot preparations are well-advised to destroy the entire tumor as quickly as possible since I feel that inflammation and irritation of the tumor can conceivably aggravate tumor growth.

Over the years, quite a number of people have asked me to help them after starting with a product without adequate prior preparation. Once in a while, someone was so persuasive that I tried to troubleshoot the issues that arose. However, what I want to say unequivocally is that this is a classic situation of, "if I were you, I wouldn't start here." By the time people learn this, it is too late to start differently.

Janis (not her real name) was one of the people who contacted me after misusing a popular escharotic. You can read her letter on the bulletin board page. Her issue was scarring. I believe that the amount of post-escharotic scarring is directly related to infection and toxicity, some of which is probably systemic. After several months on various anti-scarring products, Janis made only nominal improvement.

Another person who asked quite a few questions but was determined to follow the instructions that came with the product rather than listening to my suggestions was an MD who wound up with surgery. I recounted her story also. I saw her once after more than four months of determined effort that involved an unfamiliar process.

Two others who also discovered my work after applying a bloodroot paste also ended up with surgery. I want to report these incidents because the reality is that most people who use the products are doing so not only for the first time in their lives but also at the most critical time. The fact that the process is not advisable in certain situations and apt to fail is not really a basis for not trying, merely for setting some objective standards by which to measure whether or not sufficient progress is being made to warrant putting off surgery. . . which is, in fact the usual alternative to escharotics.

In Sum

Whether further perseverance or greater skill in the use of the products would have served any of those whose efforts failed is really not for me to say. I respect the possibilities of this treatment and would, in fact, choose it for myself if I were the one with cancer, but the difference between my making such a decision and someone else making it is the depth of my understanding of the method and its potential versus that of a lay person buying a product from a web site that provides little or no information or guidance on the correct use of its products.

Ironically, the one concern that doctors express, risk of infection, is the smallest worry of those experienced with this product. The treatment sites are sometimes infected prior to use of the escharotic. We know this because of the discoloration, odor, ulceration, exudations, and so forth that are often visible. However, I know of no situations in which someone became infected because of the use of escharotics. An immunologist explained this to me:

The inflammation that follows use of bloodroot is an immunological response that protects the open area from infection.

Now that the book is out, I no longer troubleshoot complications that occur as a result of misadventures with escharotics . . . except to the extent that I sometimes feel to comment on the bulletin board, a relatively recent addition to this site.

I have gone on record with adequate warnings, explained my personal preferences in my book, provided instructions and formulae in the book, and urged people to think through what they are doing before taking steps that might be regretted. I believe in the treatment, but not probably for the same reasons as patients. I do not have a need to believe in it because my life depends on the choices I make. I have a need to be true to myself, my philosophy of healing, and my faith in the goodness of Nature.

This said, I cannot even begin to emphasize the importance of the supportive measures. For me, external use of bloodroot pastes is a last resort, not the first line of assault in cancer treatment. Were I in the position of needing to treat a lump in my body, I would use the internal tonics for some months and then perhaps a goldenseal salve on the lump. I feel I know enough to make such a decision for myself; and many who have read my book also feel well enough informed to understand the ramifications of their choices. It is definitely possible to use bloodroot or some other escharotic or enucleating product successfully, but my sense is that those who succeeded without proper understanding.


Cancer Salves:
A Botanical Approach to Treatment







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Seventh Ray Press
Poulsbo, Washington

Copyright by Ingrid Naiman 2003, 2006, 2014

Photo credits, Sanguinaria canadensis: Kurt Lerner