Red root (aka New Jersey tea, mountain sweet or snowball) is a shrub native to eastern North America.
Scientifically known as Ceanothus americanus, the plant has white flowers and a long, bitter root that’s been used as an herbal remedy for centuries.
Potential red root benefits
Many Native Americans traditionally use red root to treat conditions like:
Lots of herbalists and natural medicine practitioners believe that it can treat things like:
- respiratory illnesses
- drain and heal the lymphatic system
- support a healthy spleen
There’s not a lot of scientific research to back these uses so far, but that doesn’t automatically mean it’s folklore. Unless you’re pregnant, nursing, or on blood thinning meds, taking red root as directed isn’t likely to cause serious interactions or side effects. It just might be worth a try.
Traditionally, Native Americans brew the root for tea and use it to treat a variety of ailments. They also chew its leaves to soothe throat and mouth irritation.
During the Revolutionary War, American colonists often drank American red root instead of the (off-limits) English tea. It doesn’t have caffeine, though, so don’t count on red root as a midday pick-me-up.
In anecdotal reports from herbalists and homeopathic practitioners, tinctures of super diluted extracts from the plant’s leaves and root bark have been shown to support a healthy respiratory system, spleen, and lymphatic system.
Red root’s chock-full of tannins (the grainy stuff in red wine) and alkaloids (like quinine) that make it taste bitter. Tannins are a type of antioxidant that help protect cells and DNA from damage.
Some sources claim that these compounds account for red root’s medicinal properties, but there’s no research that supports that theory just yet.
Might protect your heart
A 2017 review suggests that tannins can protect your heart and blood vessels, reduce blood pressure and help maintain healthy blood sugar levels. They may also prevent the growth of some types of bacteria and microbes.
You don’t necessarily have to sip on red root to reap those benefits, though. You could try some other tannin-rich foods or drinks, including:
Still, red root tea might give you a tannin-rich boost without potentially negative effects associated with caffeine, alcohol or sugar.
May have antibacterial effects
According to a 2014 review, alkaloids in foods like coffee, tea leaves, chocolate, tomatoes and potatoes may help prevent the growth and spread of bacteria and viruses. So, you could nosh on those foods instead, but red root could also do the trick.
Pick up a bottle of red root supplements online or from your local drugstore and you’ll find they’re typically marketed for liver, spleen and immune support. The research on red root producing those effects is pretty iffy, but here’s what we know.
Red root’s been tested as a remedy for a rare blood disorder
In a small 2007 study, researchers tested the effects of red root consumption on people with thalassemia. That’s an inherited blood disorder that can make your spleen or liver get bigger and often requires blood transfusions.
The 38 participants received standard meds alongside red root and other homeopathic remedies like pulsatilla.
Afterward, those who took the herbal remedies including red root had improved blood test results, a longer time between transfusions, and a reduction in spleen size compared to those who took standard meds alone.
Since other herbs were used alongside red root, though, it’s difficult to prove anything for sure.
One older test tube study tested red root’s antibacterial effects
In a test tube study from 1997, researchers tested the effect of red root on a bacteria type found in your mouth. Turns out, some of red root’s natural compounds seemed to inhibit the growth of four types of harmful oral pathogens.
Another (much) older study tested red root’s effect on blood pressure
Another (very dated!) test tube study from 1960 found compounds in red root that were believed to help lower blood pressure — however, scientists noted that more research is needed. And 60+ years later, that’s still the case: we still need more research to be sure.
Since these studies are pretty limited, small, and dated, it’s tough to jump to any conclusions about red root and its alleged health benefits.
Like lots of other herbs, if you’re pregnant or nursing, it’s a good idea to avoid red root. There isn’t evidence that it’s harmful to you or your baby, but there isn’t enough evidence suggesting it’s safe, either.
Some research from 1958 suggests red root might impact blood clotting, so those who take blood thinning meds or who have blood clotting disorders should avoid it. Even though the research is dated, it’s not worth taking the risk.
There’s no reported interactions or adverse effects of taking red root in otherwise healthy people. While the research remains limited, if you use red root as instructed by the label, it’s unlikely to cause you harm.
Remember: Supplements aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration so you should only purchase a red root extract with ingredients that have been verified by a third party and its purity confirmed.
Even though it comes from a natural source, it’s possible that red root could interact with other herbs, medications or health conditions. Like with any supplement, you should talk to your healthcare provider before taking it.
Red root, homeopathy and the placebo effect
Homeopathic remedies like red root are sometimes based on the principle “like cures like”. With this mentality, folks believe ingesting a tiny portion of something that normally triggers symptoms can actually treat an illness with similar symptoms. These remedies have been practiced for a long, long time by cultures across the globe.
In a 2020 review, researchers concluded that homeopathic remedies like red root aren’t any more effective than a placebo effect. To be fair, research suggests that some conventional medicine treatments aren’t more effective than the placebo effect, either. 🤯
If you decide to take red root, vet the vendor thoroughly. Check out the reviews and the complete list of ingredients in particular. It’s best to only shop for those products that’ve been verified by an independent laboratory.
Be sure to follow the instructions on the label, which can vary from product to product.
A typical dose might be 1 to 5 drops in water, 1 to 3 times a day, but there aren’t any scientifically-backed recommendations yet.
If you want to take red root for your health condition, chat with your healthcare provider first. It could interfere with certain medications, other herbs, or health conditions, so it’s best to play it safe and get a professional opinion for your situation.
- Red root is an herb with a long traditional medicine history, especially among Native Americans.
- Today, many homeopathic practitioners recommend red root for improving spleen health, respiratory function, and lymphatic system health in particular.
- Some of the plant’s compounds may have antioxidant and antimicrobial effects.
- There’s no evidence that red root’s more effective than a placebo.
- For most people, research suggests it’s safe to take red root. If you’re pregnant, nursing, or on blood thinners, though, it’s better not to risk it.