Senega Root

Polygala senega

Herbs gallery - Senega Root

Common names

  • Milkwort
  • Rattlesnake Root
  • Seneca Snakeroot
  • Senega
  • Senega Root
  • Snake Root

Senega root, also known as senega snakeroot or simply senega, is actually the perennially growing herb, which belongs to the plant family Polygalaceae.

These roots usually have a bended, convoluted shape and, hence, they are aptly named snakeroot. However, as the term snakeroot is used for several dissimilar species, it becomes meaningless when you do not give it a specific name.

This herb bears little, white hued flowers and is indigenous to the forest areas in the eastern regions of North America ranging from the southern part of Canada to as far as South Carolina.

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Senega root is among the very few new medications that were introduced following the America's discovery and it was highly esteemed by the native Seneca Indians for its effectiveness in curing rattlesnake bites.

While the usage of this remedy perhaps was entirely subject to the 'Doctrine of Signatures', later on, senega root became very popular in the form of a nauseating expectorant and was generally included in most syrups as well as other analogous preparations for treating colds and coughs.

However, senega gradually lost its popularity and in the year 1960, The National Formulary dropped this medication from its list.

Nevertheless, contemporary herbalists still hold this medication in high esteem for its diaphoretic (a medication that encourages sweating), expectorant, sialagogue (a medication that enhances saliva flow) and emetic properties. Herbalists say that senega root is especially effective for treating bronchitis and asthma.

Freshly obtained senega root possesses a pleasing scent, which reminds one of wintergreen, as senega root also contains methyl salicylate (roughly 0.1 per cent).

However, an intricate blend of triterpenoid saponins found in the roots form the active element in this herb - these are present in a strength that varies from about 8 per cent to 16 per cent.

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These saponins work by causing irritation locally on the stomach's internal coating and, hence, cause a nauseated feeling that eventually promotes secretions from the bronchial tubes as well as the sweat glands.

However, you should be careful not to take this herb in excessive amounts, as it may result in violent purging, in addition to vomiting.

That the senega root is an effective expectorant is beyond doubt. Therefore, till today, herbalists in Europe continue to make use of senega root in the form of a major ingredient in a variety of lozenges, syrups as well as tea blends to treat and control coughs and associated throat pains.

However, people using this herb in any form should always be cautious to just take it in prescribed dosages, or else they are bound to suffer from stomach disorders.

Owing to this as well as other reasons, pharmaceuticals in the United States have not incorporated this herb in any commercial medical preparations.

In fact, though the Handbook of Non-prescription Medicines itemizes numerous cough syrups along with their ingredients, it does not list any expectorant containing senega root.

Hence, this helps us to assume that there are other expectorants that are more effectual as well as safe for treating coughs. So, in case you require taking an expectorant for your condition, it is advisable that you should try to find something that is better as well as safer compared to senega root.

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Parts used



The term polygala stands for 'much milk', which has reference to the copious secretions caused by the use of the herb senega root.

In fact, all other species that are related to senega root, for instance, milkwort is known to augment breast milk supply in nursing mothers.

This herb may possibly have got its name from the native Seneca Indians of North America, who extensively used senega root in the form of a medication to treat a variety of health conditions.

Besides the members of the Seneca tribe, many other indigenous tribes of America also used senega root for medical purpose.

However, Seneca people first revealed the medicinal attributes of this herb to John Tennent (1735), a Scottish medical practitioner who eventually introduced senega root to the Western world of medicine.

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Over the centuries, the natives of North America employed senega root for treating colds, bleeding wounds, rheumatism and inflammation.

It was Dr. John Tennent who first learnt the therapeutic uses of the herb from the natives and then took forward the use of senega root in Europe for curing pleuropneumonia and pleurisy.

Much later, precisely speaking in the early part of 19th century, senega root was employed in the form of an expectorant in cough remedies.

In contemporary times, this herb is used to treat a number of health conditions, including respiratory tract inflammation, bronchitis, emphysema, and tracheitis or inflammation of the trachea.

Saponins, counting senegins, form the main active components of senega root. It is said that the saponins present in senega root work to restrain coughing, while their clearing property helps to disintegrate phlegm.

It is also believed that senega root also encourages the secretions from the bronchial mucus gland. It has been found that the saponins present in senega root have the promise to treat type II diabetes (the form of the disease that is not dependent on taking insulin injections).

In the herbal medicine of Europe as well as North America, senega root is employed in the form of an expectorant for treating chronic bronchitis, bronchial asthma and whooping cough.

This root stimulates the mucous membranes of the bronchium, thereby helping in discharging mucus/ phlegm from the chest through coughing. In turn, it also provides relief from breathing troubles or wheezing.

When taken in excessive amounts, senega root works in the form of an emetic. In addition, it is believed that this herb encourages perspiration and also promotes the secretion of saliva.

As discussed above, many native Indian tribes of North America therapeutically used senega root for treating a variety of health conditions.

This herb encloses natural chemical substances called triterpenoid saponins, which work to keep the bronchial tubes free from phlegm.

This root possesses a number of therapeutic properties, including expectorant, antidote, stimulant, emetic, diaphoretic, cathartic, diuretic and sialagogue attributes.

The native Indians of North America often used this herb to treat snake bites as well as a variety of conditions related to the respiratory system, including pneumonia and pleurisy.

Senega root or the root of the herb called Polygala senega L. is unearthed and collected after the plant dies in autumn, dried up and stored for use in future.

It is important for people to exercise additional caution while using senega root, because when taken in large amounts, it may result in vomiting and diarrhea.

The bark of Polygala senega L. is used to prepare a tea, which is drunk to induce abortions or cause miscarriage. The dried out senega root is used in the form of a stimulating expectorant to draw out phlegm from the chest by means of coughing.

When taken in excessive measures, senega root may prove to be poisonous. This root is also chewed as well as applied to the affected sites to cure snake bites.

The German Commission E Monographs, a remedial guide to herbal medications, endorse the use of Polygala senega for treating coughs and bronchitis.

Habitat and cultivation

Senega root is native to the regions of North America and is found growing naturally in the forest lands, and other places on arid, pebbly soil.

The herb Polygala senega has a preference for a fairly luxuriant soil capable of retaining moisture and having a proper drainage.

This plant grows well in complete sunlight provided the soil is damp all through its growing season; or else it is better to grow the herb in partial shade. Another report says that this plant loathes shade.

Polygala senega is propagated by means of its seeds, ideally sown in a cold frame during spring or autumn. When the seedlings have grown sufficiently large and can be handled, prick them individually and plant them in separate containers or you may also grow the seedlings in a greenhouse for the duration of their first winter.

You may replant them outdoors in their permanent positions during the later part of spring or during early summer, when the last anticipated frost is over.


Senega snakeroot encloses phenolic acids, triterpenoid saponins (counting sengins), polygalitol, and methyl salicylate as well as plant sterols. Triterpenoid saponins contained by senega roots encourage the removal of mucous present in the bronchial tracts.

Usual dosage

Therapeutically, senega root is used in the form of infusion as well as tincture.

Infusion: To prepare this infusion, add half to one teaspoonful of dehydrated senega root to one cup (250 ml) of boiling water and set it aside for roughly 10 minutes to 15 minutes allowing it to permeate. Drink this infusion thrice every day.

Tincture: Senega root infusion should be taken in dosage of 1 ml to 2 ml thrice daily.

Side effects and cautions

Before you start using senega root, you ought to know that this herb may prove to be poisonous when taken in large amounts and cause vomiting and aggressive purging.

The use of this herb is said to have resulted in a number of side effects, including nervousness, vertigo and mental tedium. It may also cause vision disturbance.

People who are hypersensitive to salicylates or aspirin should stay away from using senega root. In addition, pregnant women should also avoid this herb.

Collection and harvesting

The roots as well as the rhizome of the herb called Polygala senega are harvested during the period between September and October.


Senega root may be used in combination with a number of other herbs to treat conditions related to the bronchitis. It may be used together with white horehound, blood root, pill-bearing spurge or grindelia.


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