Sanguinaria canadensis. Blood root.

Botanical name: 

Pl. 07. Sanguinaria canadensis AMONG the earliest visiters of spring the botanist will find in almost any part of the United States the Sanguinaria Canadensis. Its fine white flowers proceeding from the bosom of a young, convoluted leaf, become visible in the woods, in Carolina, in the month of March, and in New England, toward the end of April. Its most common name is Blood root. It has also the appellation of Puccoon, Turmeric, Red root, &c. It is the only species we at present possess of the genus Sanguinaria, distinguished by a two leaved calyx eight petals, and an oblong capsule, with one cell and many seeds.—Class Polyandria, order Monogynia. Natural order Rhoeadeae, L. Papaveraceae, Juss.

The flower and leaf proceed from the end of a horizontal, fleshy, abrupt root, fed by numerous radicles. This root makes offsets from its sides, which separate as the old root decays, acquiring by this separation the abrupt or premorse form.

Externally the colour of the root is a brownish red. Internally it is pale, and when divided emits a bright orange coloured juice from numerous points of its surface. The bud or hybernaculum, which terminates the root, is composed of successive scales or sheaths, the last of which acquires a considerable size, as the plant springs up. By dissecting this hybernaculum in the summer or autumn, we may discover the embryo leaf and flower of the succeeding spring, and with a common magnifier, even the stamens may be counted.

The Sanguinaria is smooth throughout. The leaves grow on long channelled petioles. When spread out, they are reniform or heart shaped, with large roundish lobes separated by obtuse sinuses. The under side is strongly reticulated with veins; it is paler than the upper, and at length becomes glaucous. The scape is round, rises in front of the petiole, and is infolded by the young leaf. The calyx consists of two concave, ovate, obtuse leaves, which are perfect in the bud, but fall off when the corolla expands. Petals eight, spreading, concave, obtuse, the alternate or external ones longer, so that the flower has a square appearance. This is its natural character, although cultivation sometimes increases the number of petals. Stamens numerous, with oblong yellow anthers. Germ oblong, compressed, style none, stigma thick, somewhat two lobed. Capsule oblong, acute at both extremities, two valved. Seeds numerous, roundish, compressed, dark shining red, half surrounded with a peculiar white vermiform appendage, which projects at the lower end.

After the flower has fallen, the leaves continue to grow, and by midsummer have acquired so large a size as to appear like a different plant.

The root of this vegetable is the only part which I have submitted to chemical examination. The experiments made on this substance, gave evidence of the following constituent principles.

1. A peculiar resin. Alcohol comes off from the root strongly impregnated with its colour and taste. This solution is rendered turbid by the addition of water. When evaporated to dryness, it leaves a residuum partially, but not wholly soluble in water. When successive quantities of water have been agitated with the powdered root until the infusion comes off colourless, alcohol acquires a colour from the remainder. Aether receives from the root a yellowish colour, and when evaporated, leaves the resin nearly pure. In this state it is moderately adhesive, of a deep orange colour, bitter and acrid, diffusible, but not soluble in water. The resin may also be precipitated in small quantities from alcohol by water.

2. A bitter principle. Both water and alcohol acquire a strong bitter taste when digested on the root. From both these solutions a copious precipitate is thrown down by the nitrate of silver and the acetite of lead. Muriate of tin gradually renders the solution turbid, but without a precipitate. Oxymuriatic acid renders the alcoholic solution turbid, but produces no change in the watery solution for some time. At length a precipitate forms and slowly subsides; but produces no change in the watery solution. No precipitate was formed from the cold aqueous infusion in an hour by the sulphuric or nitric acids, by lime water, nitrate of mercury, muriate of barytes, oxalate of ammonia, sulphate of iron, gelatine or hydro-sulphuret of potash. After standing twenty four hours, a very slight precipitate was discovered from the lime water and nitrate of mercury only.

3. An acrid principle. The acrimony resides in part in the resin, but is also communicated to water. It is diminished by heat, yet it does not come over with water in distillation.

4. Faecula. The infusion of the root in cold water is limpid. The hot infusion is viscid and glutinous and stiffens linen. From this solution the faecula is precipitated in a white powder by alcohol. Nitric acid dissolves this precipitate, which may be again thrown down by alcohol.

5. A fibrous or woody portion.

The beautiful colour of the root seems to reside more in the resin than in any other principle, since the alcoholic solution has always more than twice as much colour as the aqueous. Papers dipt in these solutions receive a bright salmon colour from the tincture, but a very faint one from the aqueous infusion. This circumstance furnishes an impediment to the use of this article in dyeing.

The medical properties of the Sanguinaria are those of an acrid narcotic. When taken in a large dose it irritates the fauces, leaving an impression in the throat for considerable time after it is swallowed. It occasions heartburn, nausea, faintness, and frequently vertigo and diminished vision. At length it vomits, but in this operation it is less certain than other emetics in common use. The above effects are produced by a dose of from eight to twenty grains of the fresh powdered root.

When given in smaller doses, such as produce nausea without vomiting, and repeated at frequent intervals, it lessens the frequency of the pulse in a manner somewhat analogous to the operation of Digitalis. This however is a secondary effect, since in its primary operation it seems to accelerate the circulation. Exhibited in this manner, it has been found useful in several diseases.

In still smaller doses, or such as do not excite nausea, it has acquired some reputation as a tonic stimulant.

Professor Smith of Hanover, New Hampshire, in a paper on this plant, published in the London Medical Transactions, vol. i. states that he found the powder to operate violently as an emetic, producing great prostration of strength, during its operation, which continued for some time. He had not known it to act as a cathartic. Snuffed up the nostrils, it proved sternutatory, and left a sensation of heat for some time. Applied to fungous flesh it proved escharotic, and several polypi of the soft kind were cured by it in his hands. He found it of great use in the incipient stages of pulmonary consumption, given in as large doses as the stomach would bear, and repeated. In cases of great irritation it was combined with opium. Some other complaints were benefitted by it, such as acute rheumatism and jaundice.

Professor Ives of New Haven [Letter dated November 5, 1816.] considers the Blood root as a remedy of importance in many diseases, particularly of the lungs and liver. He observes, that in typhoid pneumonia, "in plethoric constitutions, when respiration is very difficult, the cheeks and hands become livid, the pulse full soft, vibrating and easily compressed,—the Blood root has done more to obviate the symptoms and remove the disease," than any remedy which he has used. In such cases, he observes, "the dose must be large in proportion to the violence of the disease, and often repeated, until it excites vomiting, or relieves the symptoms." He infuses from a scruple to half a drachm of the powdered root in half a gill of hot water, and gives one or two teaspoonfuls every half hour, in urgent cases, until the effect is produced. This treatment has often removed the symptoms in a few hours.

Dr. Ives thinks highly of its use in influenza, in phthisis, and particularly in hooping cough. He also states, that given in large doses, sufficient to produce full vomiting, it often removes the Croup, if administered in the first stages. It has been given, he remarks, "for many years in the country, some physicians relying wholly on this remedy for the cure of croup."

Dr. Macbride, of Charleston, S. C. who has contributed many judicious remarks on the medicinal properties of plants, to Mr. Elliott's excellent Botany of the Southern States; informs me, [Letter dated December, 1816.] that he has found the Blood root useful in Hydrothorax, given in doses of sixty drops, ter de die, and increased until nausea followed each dose. In a week or two the good effect was evident, the pulse being rendered slow and regular, and the respiration much improved. In the same letter he observes, "In torpor of the liver, attended with colic and yellowness of the skin, a disease common in this climate, I use the Puccoon with evident advantage. We use it also in jaundice, but in this disease I do not trust exclusively to it. I prefer the pill or powder (dose from two to five grains) and vinous infusion, to the spirituous tincture."

The tincture of Sanguinaria may be made by digesting an ounce of the powdered root in eight ounces of diluted alcohol. This preparation possesses all the bitterness, but less of the nauseating quality, than the infusion. In the dose of a small teaspoonful, it is used by many practitioners as a stimulating tonic, capable of increasing the appetite and promoting digestion.

Botanical References.

Sanguinaria Canadensis, Lin. sp. pl.
Curtis, Botan. Mag. t. 162.
Aiton, Hort. Kew. ii. 222.
Walter, Carol. 153.
Michaux, Flora 1, 309.
Pursh, ii. 366.
Sanguinaria minor, Dillenius, Elth. f. 326 and S. major, f. 325 in t. 252.
Chelidonium maximum acaulon Canadense Raius, Hist. 1887.
Ranunculus Virg. albus. Parkinson, Th. 326.
Chelidonium majus Canad. acaulon - Cornutus, Canad. 212.

Medical References.

Schoepf, 85.
Smith, Trans. Lond. Med. Society, i. 179.
Bart. Coll. 28.
Cutler, Mem. Amer. Acad. i. 455.
Thacher, Disp. 331.

American Medical Botany, 1817-1821, was written by Jacob Bigelow, M. D.