Medical Attributes of Sanguinaria canadensis - Bloodroot

By Amber Styer
Wilkes University
Wilkes-Barre, PA
July, 2017

Sanguinaria canadensis L., commonly known as bloodroot, red puccoon, and redroot, is an indigenous plant of the central and eastern parts of the United States and is a member of the Papaveraceae (poppy family) (Croaker, et al. 2016). This 15-30 cm tall flowering herbaceous perennial flourishes in a woody environment where there is well drained soil with a pH of 5-7 or higher (Croaker, et al. 2016). Bloodroot is a hermaphroditic plant, which allows the plant to self-pollinate or cross-pollinate, and flowers for a few days from March until May, and fruits in June (Croaker, et al. 2016).

Extracts from bloodroot are used in both traditional and contemporary herbal medicine for its anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, tumoricidal, and immunomodulatory properties (Perera, et al. 2014). Sanguinarine is a benzophenanthride alkaloid and is one of the many active ingredients derived from the rhizome of Sanguinaria canadensis L. (Wang, et al. 2017).
S. canadensis extracts have been demonstrated to exhibit anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-tumor, and anti-microbial properties; and provides neuroprotection.  Wang et al. (2017) conducted a study of the neuroprotective effects of sanguinarine following cerebral ischemia in rats.  The study found that rats pretreated with sanguinarine delayed neuronal death in the middle cerebral artery occlusion (MCAO) model. Thus, sanguinarine was neuroprotective in transient cerebral ischemia in rats (Wang, et al. 2017).

Based on the antimicrobial properties of sanguinarine, a study was done to determine if it could be a possible treatment for schistosomiasis (Zhang, et al. 2013). The study found that sanguinarine along with plumbagin had significant potential of being an antischistosomal chemotherapy.  Having a concentration of 10 μM (equivalent to 1.88 μg/ml for plumbagin and 3.68 μg/ml for sanguinarine) of both compounds resulted in a 100% mortality rate of the snail-borne parasites within 48 hours (Zhang, et al. 2013).

Sanguinarine shows promise of being a treatment for several cancers, including pancreatic, lung, and prostate. A study of molecular signatures of sanguinarine in human pancreatic cancer cells resulted in a marked cleavage of Poly ADP (Adenosine Diphosphate)-Ribose Polymerase (PARP) and Caspase 7, which are indicative of apoptosis induction. Further, sanguinarine induces apoptosis using Annexin V/Propidium Iodide (PI) binding assay (Singh, et al. 2015). Sanguinarine also proved to be a promising treatment for lung cancer because it represses the vascular endothelial growth factor induced tube formation of human micro vascular endothelial cells as well as the migration of human lung cancer cells (Xu, et al. 2013). Administering sanguinarine beginning 3 days after ectopic implementation of human prostate cancer cells reduced both the volume and the weight of the tumor (Sun, et al. 2010).

Although sanguinarine shows promise for treating multiple cancers ranging from skin cancers to pancreatic, whether it is a possible treatment for gastric cancer remains poorly known. A study to identify the effects of sanguinarine on gastric cancer found that it exerted anticancer effects by inhibiting cell proliferation and invasion (Zhang, et al. 2017).  It also induced cell apoptosis in a dose dependent manner and provided the therapeutic strategy for the gastric cancer treatment. However, Zhang’s (2017) study had many deficiencies and further research in animal studies has to be completed in order to fully understand the effects of sanguinarine as a cancer treatment.

Overall the red latex extracted from S. canadensis containing sanguinarine has been proven to be beneficial for a number of years and continues to express value in the medicinal field with its therapeutic properties known for aiding in pain and fever relief (Wang, et al. 2012), cancer treatments, as well as being an anti-inflammatory (Gaziano, et al. 2016).  A study suggested that sanguinarine has protective effects on teeth as well as alveolar bone health (Haowei, et al. 2013).

Although bloodroot shows promising medicinal qualities, it does have some drawbacks such as damaging healthy skin leading to further treatment being needed when applied as black salve (Hou, et al. 2015). However, even with the possible dangers of Sanguinarine extract being toxic, it provides many benefits that outweigh the risks.  If more research is conducted and the proper dosage is followed, bloodroot may prove to be a promising treatment for multiple cancers and parasites such as schistosomiasis.


Croaker A., G. King, J. Pyne, S. Anoopkumar-Dukie, and L. Liu. 2016.  Sanguinaria canadensis: Traditional medicine, phytochemical composition, biological activities and current uses. International Journal of Molecular Sciences 17.9: 1414.

Gaziano, R. G. Moroni, C. Buč, M.T. Miele, P. Sinibaldi-Vallebona, and F. Pica. 2016. Antitumor effects of the benzophenanthridine alkaloid sanguinarine: Evidence and perspectives. World Journal of Gastrointestinal Oncology 8.1

Haowei L., Z. Zanjing, L. Guangwang , T. Tingting, L. Zhen, Z. Minghao, Q. An, and  D. Kerong. 2013. Sanguinarine inhibits osteoclast formation and bone resorption via suppressing RANKL-induced activation of NF-κB and ERK signaling pathways. Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications. 430(3): 951-956.

Hou, J., and J. Brewer. 2015. Black salve and bloodroot extract in dermatologic conditions. Cutis. Frontline Medical Communications Inc.

Perera A., J. Robinson, C. Shearn, T. Noble, J. Hallam, M. Kohut, D. Senchina. 2014.  Effects of bloodroot rhizome ethanol extracts on cytokine production by blood mononuclear cells during flowering and fruiting. Journal of Herbal Medicine 4:18-23.

Singh, C. K., K. Satwinderjeet, J. George, M. Nihal, M. Hahn, C. Scarlett, and N. Ahmad. 2015.  Molecular signatures of sanguinarine in human pancreatic cancer cells: A large scale label-free comparative proteomics approach. Oncotarget 6.12: 10335–10349.

Sun M., W. Lou, J. Chun, D. Cho, N. Nadaminty, C. Evans, J. Chen, J. Yue, Q. Zhou, A. Gao. 2010. Sanguinarine suppresses prostate tumor growth and inhibits survivin expression.” Genes & Cancer 1.3: 283–292.

Wang M. Z., and E.M. Warshaw. 2012.  Bloodroot. Dermatitis 23.6: 281-83.
Wang Q., P. Dei, H. Bao, P. Liang, W. Wang, A. Xing, J. Sun. 2017. Anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects of sanguinarine following cerebral ischemia in rats. Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine 13.1: 263–268.

Xu J., Q. Meng, Y. Chong, Y. Jiao, L. Zhao, E. Rosen, S. Fan. 2013.  Sanguinarine is a novel VEGF inhibitor involved in the suppression of angiogenesis and cell migration. Molecular and Clinical Oncology 1.2: 331–336.

Zhang, S.M., and K.A. Coultas. 2013.  Identification of plumbagin and sanguinarine as effective chemotherapeutic agents for treatment of schistosomiasis.  International Journal for Parasitology, Drugs and Drug Resistance 3: 28–34.

Zhang R., G. Wang, P. Zhang, J. Zhang, Y. Huang, Y. Lu, W. Da, Q. Sun, and J. Zhu. 2017.  Sanguinarine inhibits growth and invasion of gastric cancer cells via regulation of the DUSP4/ERK pathway. Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine 21.6: 1117–1127.

This paper was developed as part of the BIO 368 - Medical Botany course offered at Wilkes University during the summer of 2003. Course instructor was Kenneth M. Klemow, Ph.D. ( The information contained herein is based on published sources, and is made available for academic purposes only. No warrantees, expressed or implied, are made about the medical usefulness or dangers associated with the plant species in question.

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This page posted and maintained by Kenneth M. Klemow, Ph.D., Biology Department, Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18766. (570) 408-4758,