RED ROOT –Ceanothus Americanus, Ceanothus Fendleri, Ceanothus Velutinus, Ceanothus Cuneatus, Ceanothus Herbaceum, Ceanothus Spinosus, Ceanothus Greggii, etc.
Also known as: New Jersey Tea, deer brush, snowbrush, desert ceanothus, grub roots, green buckbrush, bloodroot, etc.
Parts used: root, leaves, flowers
Systems/organs affected: liver, lymph, spleen, blood, digestive, nervous, bowel, lungs
Properties: astringent, scrofulous, hemostatic, antispasmodic, expectorant, hypotensive, sedative, lymph stimulant, lymph tonic, anti-inflammatory, alterative, antisyphilitic, heaptic, splenic stimulant, antibacterial, nervine, antiviral
RED ROOT is a member of the Rhamnaceae (buckthorn) family. It is indigenous to the Americas although it has been naturalized elsewhere. There are between 60-80 different species of this plant and it does cross breed so new hybrids seem to pop up all the time. It has ovate shaped leaves with three predominant veins that start at the base of the leaf and continue out to the margins. It is a rather hardy shrub like plant that can be anywhere from 12 inches to 25 feet tall. Some varieties have thorns on them while others do not. The flowers grow in feathery clusters and can be greenish white to white in color-some are fragrant while others are not. Again it depends on the variety. (The smell is said to be sweetly nauseating-so like cooking honey). The flowers give way to a tri-lobed seed capsule that turn a reddish color when mature. The root is red (when picked at the proper time-otherwise it is white to pinkish) which is where the name comes from. It has also been referred to as blood root (Sanguinaria Canadensis) which is an ENTIRELY different species of plant so please pay attention to the Latin! The seeds of this plant can lie dormant for 200 years or more waiting for fire to germinate them. They are also one of the first plants to come back from a fire and help with soil erosion (much like ocean spray plant or fireweed). It typically blooms from June to August and can be found growing in coastal shrub lands to forest clearings from British Columbia to Guatemala and throughout the Rockies. The dried leaves have been compared to black tea in flavor but the root is where the true medicinal content of the plant lies. The root is best harvested in late fall to early spring (Nov. & Feb.). The root should be chopped up into small pieces while fresh because once dried it takes a tank to crush it.
Red root is considered by many herbalists to be a plant for the herbal kit. (In other words not to be without). It has many medicinal uses but it is perhaps best known for what it does for the lymph system. Chemical components within the plant stimulate the lymphatic system to flow thus removing blockages and/or toxins. It also works as a tonic to the lymph-toning the system as it heals. It is best used with other lymphatic (Scrofulous) herbs for this purpose rather than alone. For this reason it makes it a perfect herb for anything that effects the lymph system such as appendicitis, enlarged spleen, tonsillitis and other lymph node issues in the body. Traditional Chinese medicine believes that the spleen plays a significant role in how the body metabolizes and uses food. They believe it is a splenic imbalance that causes digestive issues and sluggish metabolic function. (To many herbalists the spleen is the biggest lymph node).
Red root has a lengthy history. It was in the King’s Dispensary (1898) along with a host of other herbal works from that period. The leaves were typically used during that time but weren’t considered as effective as other herbs for illnesses (not medicinal enough). The root didn’t become popular until the mid 1900’s even though the Native Americans had been using it for decades. The Cherokee used the root to tone the digestive tract, for skin cancer and venereal sores. The Chippewa used it for lung issues, constipation, shortness of breath and digestive problems. The Iroquois used the root for colds and to improve blood circulation. The leaves were used for diarrhea. It was also used by many tribes as a wash for wounds and venereal diseases and as firewood when timber was scarce. Father Pierre d’Incarville, a French Jesuit and botanist (1700’s) was one of the first to bring the plant back to his home country, where it was used much like the natives used it. Early Eclectic physicians used it as a mucolytic agent due to its ability to move fluids in the body. It was used for varicose veins, broken capillaries, reproductive cysts, hemorrhoids, to improve arterial blood flow and more. The European colonists used it to alleviate whooping cough and other respiratory complaints. During the Revolutionary War it was used as a substitute for tea (the leaves) and in Civil War times it was employed for malarial splenitis (enlarged spleen due to malaria). In fact in the Eclectic Medical Journal (1898, 4th Edition, vol. 58:301-302) it states,
“In malarial splenitis of a chronic nature, and subsequent malarial anemia, ceanothus is a valuable remedy. Because of its stimulating effect upon the mucus membranes of the body, and its stimulating action upon the blood supply of the stomach, ceanothus is an excellent remedy in some cases of dyspepsia-those in which there is a depraved blood supply, little absorption, poor hepatic and splenic action.” It goes on to say that due to those actions it makes it a beneficial plant for diarrhea, dysentery, gonorrhea, asthma, menorrhagia, cancer, syphilis, chronic bronchitis, sore throat and/or mouth, etc. Michael Moore calls it one of the most unsung herbs of our time.
Red root contains a chemical called ceanothine. This compound is believed to give the plant most of its medicinal value although it does have a host of other beneficial components and acids. For many herbalists the spleen is the key for using this plant. It is a deficiency in the spleen that leads to things like Crohn’s disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Colitis and a host of other intestinal and/or digestive issues. This also plays a role in skin disorders as well as the two are irrevocably connected. Other conditions that are affected by inadequate lymphatic or spleen function are mononucleosis, strep infections, gingivitis, dental plaque, leukemia, AIDS, mastitis, tonsillitis, anemia, Hodgkin’s disease, rheumatic conditions, hepatitis, bad skin/acne, ongoing headaches, lupus, lyme disease and other autoimmune disorders, etc. (Who knew so many things could be affected by such small things?!)
Henriette’s Herbal says that water is the best menstruum for this herb. Basically it says that,
“When purified, ceanothine is white, its odor and taste is similar to that of green tea; it is soluble in water, but insoluble in alcohol, ether, and carbon disulphide.”
Ceanothus Velutinus is the one most found in Idaho. There are other herbs that CAN be used as alternatives to red root but their potentcy will vary. For instance, poke root is a great alternative but needs to be used wisely and carefully as it is three times as potent as red root so you would use one third the amount of poke root as you would red root. Cleavers is another option but it is not as potent as red root. You would need 4 times the amount of cleavers as you would red root to get the same effect. Red root has a high protein and calcium content. It also contains fair amounts of copper, iron and zinc.
WebMD suggests that this herb should not be taken by pregnant and/or nursing women, those on blood thinners (red root has coagulating abilities), those on iron supplements (it may interfere with absorption), those with digestive issues, glaucoma those taking blood pressure or cholesterol meds and those scheduled for surgical procedures. Too much red root can cause a loss of appetite, low blood pressure, drowsiness, vomiting, shock, diarrhea, headaches, insomnia, irregular heartbeat, glaucoma and coma. (Those are RARE and only come from extended long period use). Consult with a qualified physician before ever beginning an herbal product or regimen.
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