Black salve is an herbal preparation marketed as a natural way to remove skin tags and moles. The use of black salve is highly controversial, with proponents claiming to have cured potentially deadly skin cancers and others actively denouncing black salve as a dangerous and fraudulent product. Black salve contains the herb bloodroot, which has been declared "poisonous" by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
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According to herbalist Pam Montgomery in the book "Planting the Future: Saving Our Medicinal Herbs" by Rosemary Gladstar and Pamela Hirsch, bloodroot was mixed with zinc oxide, flour and water to create the first black salve for treating skin cancers by an English doctor in the 19th century. A "Dr. Fells" used this formula to treat skin cancers in London and claimed that it was more effective than surgery. Bloodroot was recognised by the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), which sets standards for all prescription and over-the-counter drugs in the United States, until the early 1900s and was included in the USP-National Formulary until the 1960s, but is now classified as poisonous because of possible side effects when taken internally.
According to Montgomery, bloodroot has antimicrobial and anti-cancer properties, and a large array of pharmacologically active substances, including several alkaloids. Black salve is purported on websites selling the product to actually eat away the unwanted cells of a growth, be it benign or malignant, and leave healthy skin cells intact.
Black salve is sometimes referred to as an "escharotic" or corrosive substance, because it can cause a thick "eschar," or scab, to form on the skin, similar to the scabs that form after chemical burns. Dr. Andrew Weil states on his website that he has used bloodroot preparations successfully to remove skin tags and moles, but urges people with skin cancer to seek conventional treatment, citing the high cure rate and lower risk of skin damage.
According to Weil, few studies have been done on black salves and cancer, and the ones that have been done were inconclusive. Quackwatch.org, which monitors health frauds and scams, claims that black salve is potentially extremely dangerous, and lists several studies where patients attempting to treat skin cancer at home with black salve ended up with severe scarring.
There have been several documented cases of skin damage due to the use of black salves that contain bloodroot. A 2008 study published in Clinical Toxicology describes the case of a patient who had ulceration and eventual scarring after applying bloodroot paste that he had purchased on the Internet to a facial lesion.
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