Senega Snakeroot

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  • Botanical: Polygala senega
  • Family: Polygalaceae
  • Hits: 780
Senega Snakeroot


Polygala senega



Known as

Senega Snakeroot, Senegaroot, Rattlesnake root, Mountain flax,

Old Use


Parts Used



bronchitis, bronchitis, colds, coughs, diarrhea, flatulence, menstruation promotion, respiratory, sore throat, throat inflammation, throat infections

Hormone & Sexual Organs

menstruation promotion

Infection & Inflammation

throat infections

Respiratory System

asthma, bronchitis, catarrh, colds, cough, difficulty breathing, lung weakness, pharyngitis, respiratory, sore throat, throat infections, tonsillitis

Stomach & Intestinal

diarrhea, vomiting


abortifacient, diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, stimulant


This species is a perennial herb with multiple stems up to 50 centimeters tall. The stems are usually unbranched, but some old plants can have branching stems. A mature plant can have up to 70 stems growing from a hard, woody rootstock that spreads horizontally. The lance-shaped leaves are alternately arranged. The lower leaves are reduced and scale-like. The inflorescence is a spike of rounded white or greenish flowers. The fruit is a capsule containing two hairy black seeds. The root is twisted and conical, with a scent somewhat like wintergreen and a very pungent taste. There are two root morphs; a northern morph growing in Canada and toward Minnesota has larger roots up to 15 centimeters long by 1.2 wide which are dark brown and sometimes purplish toward the top, and a southern morph found in the southeastern United States that has smaller, yellow-brown roots.

Properties & Uses

Seneca snake root was employed medicinally by several native North American Indian tribes, who used it to treat a variety of complaint. It is still used in modern herbalism where it is valued mainly as an expectorant and stimulant to treat bronchial asthma, chronic bronchitis and whooping cough.The root contains triterpenoid saponins, these promote the clearing of phlegm from the bronchial tubes. The root is antidote, cathartic, diaphoretic, diuretic, emetic, expectorant, sialagogue, stimulant. It was used by the North American Indians in the treatment of snake bites and has been found of use in the treatment of various respiratory problems including pleurisy and pneumonia. The root is harvested when the plant dies down in autumn and is dried for later use. Use with caution, excess doses cause diarrhoea and vomiting. See also the notes above on toxicity. A tea made from the bark has been drunk in order to bring about a miscarriage. The dried root is used as a stimulating expectorant - it is said to owe its medicinal value to the presence of saponins and in large doses is poisonous. The root is harvested in the autumn. The root has been used to treat snakebites, it is chewed and applied to the bite. The 


The plant is poisonous in large quantities, causing violent purging and vomiting. Reported to have caused anxiety, mental dullness and vertigo. May disturb vision. Avoid if hypersensitive to aspirin or or salicylates. Avoid during pregnancy and lactation. Can lower blood sugars so avoid if diabetes mellitus


The plant grows on prairies and in woods and wet shoreline and riverbank habitat. It grows in thin, rocky, usually calcareous soils. It also occurs in disturbed habitat, such as roadsides.


The root contains polygalic acid, virgineic acid, pectic and tannic acids, yellow, bitter, colouring matter, cerin fixed oil, gum, albumen, woody fibre, salts, alumina, silica, magnesia and iron. The powder is yellowish-grey to light yellowish-brown.

The active principle, contained in the bark, is Senegin (which some authorities regard as another name for polygalic acid, while others differentiate between the two). It is a white powder easily soluble in hot water and alcohol, forming a soapy emulsion when mixed with boiling water. It is almost identical with the saponin of Saponaria officinalis and Quillaria Saponaria. Thus its influence counteracts, or can be counteracted, by digitalis.

For educational purposes only This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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