Sanguinaria Canadensis. Blood root, Red puccoon, Red turmeric.

Botanical name: 

Description: Natural Order, Papaveraceae. This is a low perennial plant, with the stem (root) a few inches long, one-fourth to half an inch thick, horizontal, reddish-brown without, deep red within, dense and brittle, and yielding freely of a deep blood-red juice. The leaf is solitary, rising directly from the rhizoma, on a petiole several inches long, large, rounded, deeply sinuate-lobed on the outer margin, yellowish-green above, whitish and veined below, veins orange-tinted. Flower single, rising from the root on a long scape, infolded in the leaf while in bud, pure white, an inch in diameter; sepals two; petals eight to twelve, spreading, fleeting; stamens about twenty-four, with large yellow anthers. Blooming in April or early May.

Properties and Uses: This root, coming from the suspicious Family of the poppies, is accused of being an acro-narcotic. I long shared the same belief; but the thorough investigation of it by the members of the Indiana Physio-Medical Association, (Transactions, 1866,) shows quite to the contrary, so far as concerns the dried root. The fresh root is bitter and harsh. The dried root is a slow relaxant and stimulant, influencing the mucous membranes, gall-ducts, and secreting organs in general. Large quantities are nauseant, and even emetic, especially to those of sensitive organization; but the bilious and lymphatic are seldom more than slightly nauseated by it. As an emetic, it is slow and harsh; and though some would deem it a virtue to "modify" lobelia by its association, it is altogether too harsh an article for emetic purposes, and should have no connection with lobelia for such purposes. Small doses arouse the stomach slowly in atonic dyspepsia, act moderately upon the gall-ducts, and promote expectoration in low coughs. Chronic torpor of the liver in bilious temperaments, and chronic jaundice, are the conditions in which its use is most available. For chronic affections of the skin, arising from hepatic torpor, it may be used in quite small proportions with relaxing alterants; but it is not beneficial in dropsy and scrofula, except as an addendum in low cases. Small quantities may be added to relaxants for expectorant purposes. It is not an agent to be used in sensitiveness or irritability of any mucous membrane or other part, but only in sluggish conditions. Combined in limited quantities with hydrastis and lobelia, it may be used in chronic catarrh and nasal polypus, as a snuff, if the parts are freely discharging and are not too sensitive. I have found great benefit in applying the same combination, in powder, upon true hunterian and indolent chancres; in a short time obtaining a discharge and the removal of the gray membrane, when the sanguinaria may be omitted. The powder is also a good application to fungous ulcers; but does not act as an escharotic, as is generally asserted. The U. S. Dispensatory says four persons lost their lives at Bellevue Hospital, New York, by drinking largely of blood root tincture in mistake for ardent spirits–a due share in the disaster being of course due to the alcohol, and the report failing to note the symptoms peculiar to sanguinaria.

Dose of the powder as a tonic and alterant, two to five grains three times a day; as an expectorant, one to two grains every second hour or less. Twenty grains or less are said to prove emetic, but this would be only in sensitive persons. Usually, not more than an ounce of blood root is used in a gallon of any ordinary alterative sirup, as in a compound of celastrus, arctium, and euonymus. The powder combined with leptandrin, in boneset extract, forms a good pill for hepatic purposes. Some combine it with leptandrin and podophyllin in powder; and such a mixture is truly a sharp hepatic purge, and any considerable dose of it will cause persistent and harsh retching for hours.

Pharmaceutical Preparations: I. Tincture. Crushed sanguinaria, six ounces; diluted alcohol, a quart. Digest for two weeks, and filter, or macerate in a sufficient quantity of the alcohol for two days, and then treat by percolation till a quart has passed. In doses of from five to fifteen drops, it is an actively stimulating expectorant addition to cough sirups, especially in languid conditions. An acetous tincture is made with four ounces of blood root and a quart of distilled vinegar, and is also used as an expectorant; but both these preparations are rather harsh to the respiratory membranes. In doses of a fluid drachm every ten or fifteen minutes, in diluents, they prove quickly emetic; but are useful only in sudden and alarming cases, as in narcotic and other poisoning. An ounce of the acetous tincture to seven ounces of rose water, makes a good wash for ringworm, eczema, pimples on the face, etc.

II. Compound Tincture. Two ounces each of sanguinaria, lobelia, and skunk cabbage, are treated with a quart of diluted alcohol, as for simple tincture. Or the same articles may be treated with a quart of distilled vinegar, to form the compound acetous tincture. These are less harsh, and more generally useful, expectorants than either of the preceding; and may be given in doses of from five to twenty drops in some suitable sirup. Neither of them is fitted for sensitive cases; and as an emetic, they are still too harsh for ordinary use. The preparation on vinegar is always least valuable for internal use; but is admirable, with rose water, in the skin affections above named, and is also an excellent application (especially with an equal quantity of glycerin) to give tone to the hair follicles and prevent baldness. Alcoholic preparations of this article exhibit its harshness to the fullest degree; and are not so appropriate for alterant purposes as preparations on water.

III. Sanguinarin. Make a saturated tincture of blood root with absolute alcohol, by percolation. Distill off one half the alcohol, add the remainder to twice its own bulk of distilled water, and distill off the remainder of the alcohol. By standing for several days, a precipitation slowly takes place, which is to be washed, and carefully dried. The product is a reddish-brown powder, bitterish and nauseous, and leaving a persistently acrid taste on the fauces. This preparation seems to represent the relaxing and alterant influence of the root most fully. Doses of two or three grains at intervals of four hours, soften and reduce the frequency of the pulse in sub-acute rheumatic fever, gouty fever, and similar cases; and though not a suitable remedy for other fevers, it seems not to disturb the brain at all, though some have classed it as narcotic. On the liver it acts slowly but effectually; and half a grain, with a grain or more of leptandrin, makes an excellent hepatic alterant, especially in skin affections arising from the liver.

This article enters into a large variety of compounds with aralia, lobelia, caulophyllum, and other agents. While marvelous and contradictory powers have been ascribed to it, I think close observation will justify the above limitation of its powers, whether alone or in combination.

The Physiomedical Dispensatory, 1869, was written by William Cook, M.D.
It was scanned by Paul Bergner at