Sanguinaria canadensis. Bloodroot has found its way onto baskets and into medicine cabinets, but, though beautiful, has not made its way into many gardens. That’s probably because its petals are quite delicate — a heavy spring shower can knock them off. Nonetheless, Bloodroot is very protective of its young blossoms. As the plants arise from the ground, the leaves wrap the bud-bearing stems like a baby in a blanket, perhaps to protect them from the cold air and stormy weather. This member of the Poppy family was widely used by American Indians and early American herbalists. They employed its orange-red namesake juice both as a dye and as a treatment for skin afflictions, cramps, vomiting, coughs, croup, and many other ailments. However, both Indians and colonists overlooked its main modern use: In 1983, Viadent toothpaste and mouth rinse went on the market, both containing “sanguinarine,” obtained from Sanguinaria canadensis. The American Dental Association once called sanguinarine a promising plaque-fighter, and a surgeon general of the U.S. Army Dental Corps described it as “the best thing that’s happened since fluoride.” Bloodroot itself is becoming hard to find in some parts of the East: Foraging deer have destroyed many colonies.

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