Story and photo by Gabrielle L. Wheeler
As the days get warmer and the sun a little stronger, the earth warms, and the first flowers come up. Our crocuses are blossoming their last smiles for the sunshine and the daffodils are nodding in the spring breezes. In the woods, the trilliums are just pushing through like little swirls amongst the leaf litter and the single leaves of the trout lilies scatter across the forest floor. Another delicate flower of the woods is the white-petaled bloodroot, heralded for its medicinal properties.
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is a perennial native wildflower that grows in eastern North America, from Canada south to Florida. The plant gets its common and Latin names from the blood red color of the juices produced by the root. In Latin, sanguinarius means bloody. Bloodroot grows off rhizomes, which are like roots but spread vertically and sprout identical clones nearby, producing colonies of genetically identical plants. In late April, each sprout produces a single, lobed leaf and a single, white flower which lasts only a few days before it self-pollinates and wilts. Seeds are then dispersed by native ants that carry them to their colony and eat the elaisome, or casing, similar to trilliums and possibly employing the same species of ant. Bloodroot is a typical wildflower of open woods, though they may be found along fences and tree fall clearings. In my woods, I have very few individual sprouts, which I believe is only one single colony. This colony grows along the bank of the stream.
Known by its unique root, the bold color is also a warning to harvesters as the sap of the bloodroot is poisonous. Even so, bloodroot has long been used medicinally for various ailments, including respiratory wellness; skin problems; pain relief from arthritis, headaches, and migraines; and more recently, cancer prevention and treatment. In the US, bloodroot is most often sold commercially in supplement stores or from nurseries as a dry root. In the EU, bloodroot has been recognized for its antibacterial and antiparasitic properties and is routinely given to livestock as a natural alternative to banned pharmaceuticals. Anyone interested in taking a bloodroot supplement should first consult their doctor to determine if it is safe.
While I don’t think I am going to dig up my bloodroot and take the chance with making a tea to battle the respiratory infection I’ve been fighting, I do enjoy having these small wildflowers growing on my property. Bloodroot is one of the flowers that represents the changing of the seasons to me and the warming of the days that will lead to the coming rush of green of the trees leafing out.