Robert W. Freckmann Herbarium
University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point

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Plants of Wisconsin

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  Prairie Folklore

by Wayne Pauly from Dane County Parks ACTION Adult Conservation Team Newsletter (All folklore stories)


Bloodroot
Sanguinaria Canadensis 

Sometime in the dim past, according to an old flower book, parents gave a tiny sugar lump with a drop of bright red bloodroot juice to control a child’s cough.  However, modern flower books tell us that the red juice has a “toxic, opium-like alkaloid, sanguinarine, which if taken internally causes nausea, irritation of mucous membranes and nerve poisoning.”  As with many pioneer medicines, a small amount helped and a slightly larger amount didn’t.   

Back in the era of one-room schools, a clever young schoolteacher used a bloodroot legend to get the attention of the older, unruly boys who continually disrupted her class. It happened on a fine spring day, too nice to stay inside, so the class went on an afternoon wildflower hike.  Halfway through, she found a patch of bloodroot and a strategy for quieting those boys.  She told how the Native Americans used the red juice as body paint and then suggested if anyone had the courage, she’d show the students an old Indian enchantment.  Staring at those big, unruly boys she challenged them to hold out their hands so she could put a single blood-red drop on the palm of each rough, callused hand. 

She waited in silence, giving everyone’s imagination time to work and then, as they all gazed at the red dots, she said, ”It’s and old Indian love charm, it won’t wash off, and if you touch someone, you’ll fall in love.”  The boys quietly slipped hands in pockets and kept to themselves for the remainder of the day.   

Vascular Plants

Plants of Wisconsin

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