Bloodroot grows primarily in North America and in India. The rhizomes and root of the plant contain an orange-red latex.
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Refer to label instructions
Bloodroot has a long history of use for relieving coughs
The mucilage of slippery elm gives it a soothing effect for coughs. Usnea also contains mucilage, which may be helpful in easing irritating coughs. There is a long tradition of using wild cherry syrups to treat coughs. Other traditional remedies to relieve coughs include bloodroot, catnip, comfrey (the above-ground parts, not the root), horehound, elecampane, mullein, lobelia, hyssop, licorice, mallow, (Malvia sylvestris), red clover, ivy leaf, pennyroyal (Hedeoma pulegioides, Mentha pulegium), onion, (Allium cepa), and plantain (Plantago lanceolata, P. major). None of these has been investigated in human trials, so their true efficacy for relieving coughs is unknown.
800 IU daily
Volatile oils made from bloodroot have antibacterial properties and may be effective in mouthwash or toothpaste form.
The potent effects of some commercial mouthwashes may be due to the inclusion of thymol (from thyme) and eukalyptol (from eucalyptus)—volatile oils that have proven activity against bacteria. One report showed bacterial counts plummet in as little as 30 seconds following a mouthrinse with the commercial mouthwash Listerine™, which contains thymol and eukalyptol.2 Thymol alone has been shown in research to inhibit the growth of bacteria found in the mouth.3 , 4 Because of their antibacterial properties, other volatile oils made from tea tree,5 clove, caraway, peppermint, and sage,6 as well as the herbs myrrh7 and bloodroot,8 might be considered in a mouthwash or toothpaste. Due to potential allergic reactions and potential side effects if some of these oils are swallowed, it is best to consult with a qualified healthcare professional before pursuing self-treatment with volatile oils that are not in approved over-the-counter products for halitosis.
Alkaloids—principally sanguinarine—constitute the primary active compounds in bloodroot. These are sometimes used in toothpaste and other oral hygiene products because they inhibit the growth of oral bacteria.9 , 10 Not all trials have found sanguinaria-containing dental products helpful for gum disease, however.11
Sanguinarine-containing toothpastes and mouth rinses should be used according to manufacturer’s directions. Bloodroot tincture is sometimes included in cough-relieving formulas, and 10 drops or less may be taken three times per day.12 However, bloodroot is rarely used alone for this purpose.
Although previous studies have suggested the long-term use of dental products containing sanguinarine is safe,13 a recent report suggests that use of dental preparations containing blood root may be associated with leukoplakia—a condition characterized by white spots or patches in the mouth that is thought to be precancerous.14 Only small amounts of bloodroot should be taken internally, since amounts as small as 1 ml (approximately 20–30 drops) of tincture or 1 gram (approximately 1/30th ounce) can cause nausea and vomiting.15 , 16
Long-term use or overdose of bloodroot can also cause stomach pain, diarrhea, visual changes, paralysis, fainting, and collapse.17 Long-term oral intake of sanguinarine-contaminated cooking oils has been linked in India to glaucoma, edema, heart disease, miscarriage, and diarrhea.18 The sanguinarine in these cases came from plants other than bloodroot. Nevertheless, bloodroot should not be used long term. The plant is unsafe for use in children and should not be used by pregnant or lactating women.
Recently the practice of applying ointments containing bloodroot, such as the so-called “black salve,” has been promoted for treatment of skin and other types of cancer.19 These ointments have never been tested in clinical studies, so their efficacy for treating cancer is unknown. They can cause severe pain, burns, and damage to healthy skin. It is imperative to seek professional diagnosis and treatment for all forms of cancer.
1. Duke JA. CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1985, 424–5.
2. Kato T, Iijima H, Ishihara K, et al. Antibacterial effects of Listerine on oral bacteria. Bull Tokyo Dent Coll 1990;31:301–7.
3. Cosentino S, Tuberoso CI, Pisano B, et al. In-vitro antimicrobial activity and chemical composition of Sardinian Thymus essential oils. Lett Appl Microbiol 1999;29:130–5.
4. Petersson LG, Edwardsson S, Arends J. Antimicrobial effect of a dental varnish, in vitro. Swed Dent J 1992;16:183–9.
5. Cox SD, Mann CM, Markham JL, et al. The mode of antimicrobial action of the essential oil of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree oil). J Appl Microbiol 2000;88:170–5.
6. Serfaty R, Itic J. Comparative trial with natural herbal mouthwash versus chlorhexidine in gingivitis. J Clin Dent 1988;1:A34–7.
7. Dolara P, Corte B, Ghelardini C, et al. Local anaesthetic, antibacterial and antifungal properties of sesquiterpenes from myrrh. Planta Med 2000;66:356–8.
8. Hannah JJ, Johnson JD, Kuftinec MM. Long-term clinical evaluation of toothpaste and oral rinse containing sanguinaria extract in controlling plaque, gingival inflammation, and sulcular bleeding during orthodontic treatment. Am J Orthod Dentofacial Orthop 1989;96:199–207.
9. Dzink JL, Socransky SS. Comparative in vitro activity of sanguinarine against oral microbial isolates. Antimicrob Agents Chemother 1985;27:663–5.
10. Hannah JJ, Johnson JD, Kuftinec MM. Long-term clinical evaluation of toothpaste and oral rinse containing sanguinaria extract in controlling plaque, gingival inflammation, and sulcular bleeding during orthodontic treatment. Am J Orthod Dentofacial Orthop 1989;96:199–207.
11. Mauriello SM, Bader JD. Six-month effects of a sanguinarine dentifrice on plaque and gingivitis. J Periodontol 1988;59:238–43.
12. British Herbal Medicine Association Scientific Committee. British Herbal Pharmacopoeia. West Yorks, UK: British Herbal Medicine Association, 1983.
13. Frankos VH, Brusick DJ, Johnson EM, et al. Safety of Sanguinaria extract as used in commercial toothpaste and oral rinse products. J Can Dent Assoc 1990;56(suppl 7):41–7.
14. Eversole LR, Eversole GM, Kopick J. Sanguinaria-associated oral leukoplakia. Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Pathol Oral Radiol Endod 2000;89:455–64.
15. British Herbal Medicine Association Scientific Committee. British Herbal Pharmacopoeia. West Yorks, UK: British Herbal Medicine Association, 1983.
16. McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, Goldberg A (eds). American Herbal Products Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1997.
17. Felter HW, Lloyd JU. King’s American Dispensatory 18th ed. Sandy, OR: Eclectic Medical Publications, 1898, reprinted 1983.
18. Hakim SA. Sanguinarine—a carcinogenic contaminant in Indian edible oils. Indian J Cancer 1968;5:183–97.
19. Naiman I. Cancer Salves: A Botanical Approach to Treatment. Santa Fe: Seventh Ray Press, 1999.
Last Review: 02-05-2013
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