BLOODROOT (SANGUINARIA CANADENSIS)
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is a native member of the poppy family, which grows in Nova Scotian intervale, forests, and floodplains. Its very delicate, white flowers open and set seed in early spring, while the large, scalloped leaves remain throughout the summer. The common name refers to the acrid red sap found throughout the plant.
This latex has been used medicinally in the past.
Poppy seeds are harmless and edible, but all other parts of poppy family members contain toxins.
Alkaloids, including morphine and codeine, which in the opium poppy are combined to produce the resinous, addictive drug, opium. It is harvested commercially in the Middle East and Asia by gathering and processing latex from the unripe seedpods. The illegal drug heroin is a concentrated extract of opium. Many of the same alkaloid toxins found in the poppy family are also present in the otherwise unrelated bleeding heart.
TYPICAL POISONING SCENARIO
Though morphine and codeine have legitimate medical applications, most human poisonings and fatalities are the result of deliberate abuse of opium, heroin, or other poppy products. Occasionally, bloodroot is accidentally ingested, with dangerous results.
Opium affects the body by mimicking naturally occurring compounds in the nervous system that function as sedatives, pain suppressors, and mood elevators. Not surprisingly, then, poppy poisoning is marked by erratic behaviour, loss of appetite, stupor, and coma. Overdoses of opium or its derivatives cause death by respiratory failure. Bloodroot poisoning causes vomiting before fainting and potentially fatal coma set in.
BLOODROOT POISON INFORMATION
Alkaloids are nitrogen-bearing alkaline chemicals that originate in plants. They are derived from amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, which especially affect the nervous system. At least 40% of all plant families include plants that contain these compounds.
Many plants have different alkaloids present, each with a specific activity. Some alkaloids are useful medicines; others are harmful, even fatal. Most are bitter tasting. The liver, with the assistance of enzymes, processes the alkaloids that enter the body, rendering some harmless there, while making others more toxic.
One common alkaloid, which many of us seek daily, is caffeine.
Resins and Volatile Oils
Resins and volatile oils are derived mostly from hydrocarbons—chemicals composed of hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen. This group of poisons is very diverse.