Bloodroot is a perennial flowering herb that was widely used by Native Americans both as a reddish-orange dye and as a medicine. Some tribes drank bloodroot tea as a treatment for sore throats, fevers, and joint pain, while others applied the somewhat caustic sap to skin cancers. European herbalists used bloodroot to treat respiratory infections, asthma, joint pain, warts, ringworm, and nasal polyps.

In the mid 1800s, a Dr. Fells of Middlesex Hospital in London developed a treatment consisting of a paste of bloodroot, flour, water, and zinc chloride applied directly to breast tumors and other cancers. Similar formulations were used in various locales up through the turn of the century. Today, bloodroot is still a common constituent of folk medicine "drawing salves" said to pull tumors out of the body.

Herbalists frequently recommend bloodroot pastes and salves for the treatment of warts. Bloodroot is an escharotic, that is to say a scab-producing substance, and it functions much like commercial wart plasters containing salicylic acid. Although there has not been any real scientific study of the use of bloodroot for warts, based on its escharotic effects, it could be helpful.

One constituent of bloodroot, sanguinarine, appears to possess topical antibiotic properties.1 On this basis, the FDA has approved the use of bloodroot in commercially available toothpastes and oral rinses to inhibit the development of dental plaque and periodontal disease(gingivitis). However, the evidence that it really helps remains incomplete and inconsistent.7,8 On a similar note, one very preliminary study found suggestive evidence that use of a toothpaste containing sanguinaria plus fluoride is more effective for cavity preventionthan fluoride alone.9

Bloodroot is also often combined with other herbs in cough syrups. Some herbalists recommend drinking bloodroot tea for respiratory ailments, but others consider the herb to be too unpredictable in its side effects.