This post began at flowers and wound up at a man with a hole in his head. Ick. And yet, I couldn’t help myself: I looked again.
We are not the boss of our own curiosity, are we? Or of our own writing.
Here is a flower that used to be called the Easter Candle:
Here they are later in the day:
You have to be quick to catch them like this, because it happens fast, in early Spring, only one day a year.
They remind me of the Hattifatteners from the Moomintroll books: Those odd, thin, white creatures which also poked up quickly and mysteriously from the ground:
When the flowers open fully, they don’t look anything like candles, piccolos, OR Hattifatteners:
When you cut the leaves or stem of an Easter Candle, instead of wax, you get blood.
It’s dark and permanent enough that you can use it for ink, or for dye. The Indians did.
Here are the roots:
That’s why a more common name for Easter Candles is bloodroot.
The scientific name starts with “Sanguinaria”: “bloody”.
An older name for bloodroot is bloodwort. “Wort” in a plant name tells you the plant name is very old, and the plant was used long ago in herbal medicine.
“Black salves” [savs–healing creams]–with sanguinarine [san-GUIN-uh-reen–bloodwort] and other ingredients were used to burn skin on purpose:
To remove warts and moles, and to try to cure skin cancers. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes, people still use ’em. BUT: Sometimes, they scar you really badly, or make holes in you, or kill you.
Bloodwort is an escharotic [ess-kar-OT-ick]: Something that makes skin DIE.
It turns to a special dark scab called an “eschar” [ESS-kar–Greek for scab]. This scab and skin sloughs off [sluff–fall away; especially in layers].
Escharotics include sulfuric acid, gangrene, and necrotizing [NECK-ruh-tie-zing–rotting and dying) spider bites–like the ones from the brown recluse.
Here are your mnemonics [neh-MAH-nicks–memory tricks] for today:
“An escharotic is necrotic”. “A black salve cream can cause gangrene.” “A thick black scab is something BAD.”
Okay. This is getting dorky, AND gross. Time for a Moomin break. It will still be dorky, but SWEET:
In most western countries, you need a prescription to get an escharotic salve. People who make or sell unauthorized ones like Cansema have been charged with crimes.
There are TWO reasons why non-prescribed black salves are dangerous:
Remember that word “slough” [sluff]? The dead tissue is cast off (thrown) from the SURFACE of the skin. Other stuff might be happening underneath: There can be an infection growing, or skin cancer still spreading.
A doctor can decide whether to let an eschar slough off naturally, or to debride it [deh-BREED–carefully separate and remove; e.g. with a scalpel] to prevent infection or to treat the cancer underneath. Do YOU feel qualified to decide whether you need debridement?
You can’t know how much of the sanguinaria–the stuff that will burn your skin away like ACID–is in that salve you bought from your friend’s curandero (healer). You could burn a lot more than you want.
*** WARNING: LINK FOR THE STRONG OF STOMACH ***
Here’s a man who decided to treat his own skin cancer with bloodroot salve. If you’re thinking, “He must have had a hole in his head.”, you are right. After he used the salve, that’s what he had.
(I would have included that pic here, but it is copyrighted–I try not to include those without permission. What the linked blogger did or didn’t do is his own concern.)
This whole post started when I was reading the 1956 Newberry Award winner “Miracles on Maple Hill” by Virginia Sorensen (a lovely book), and was introduced to Easter Candles and other flowers of which I’d never heard. Sparked my curiosity, it did.
I have lots and lots of more important things to do–vital things–but had to stop and write this instead. Silly, really.
Bloodwort (Sanguinaria) is approved by the FDA for use as an additive in herbal toothpastes and mouthwashes–for its supposed anti-bacterial and anti-plaque properties. Yet Wikipedia claims that:
“…products containing bloodroot are strongly associated with the development of …a premalignant lesion that may develop into oral cancer.” Wikipedia Entry on Sanguinaria.
Most of the information in this post is quoted or paraphrased from the Wikipedia items cited in the post.
STAR TREK ADDENDUM
Usually, bees pollinate the Easter Candles and ants spread their pollinated seeds. But if these cute little candles pop out too early when it’s still too cold for bees, they borrow a page from an old Star Trek and SHOOT their own pollen out.
P#SS-POOR POST ADDENDUM
Too late, I found a bloodroot post FAR superior to mine (and a brilliant nature site). Sigh.
Correction to meaning of “puccoon” (Really sorry for the bad scholarship, you-all): An Algonquin word that meant “red”.