The ancient Greeks gave their cattle senega snakeroot to increase milk production; that’s why they gave the European species of this plant the name polygala (poly = much; gala = milk). For a long time, snakeroot has been employed in Europe with this aim, giving it to cattle and goats, with however doubtful success.
At the same time, American natives historically have used another species of the genus polygala: senega snakeroot (Polygala senega L.), with a similar composition to that of the European species, to treat snake bites and respiratory afflictions.
It is interesting how the present pharmaceutical research has proved that American natives are right. Currently, senega snakeroot is part of many pharmaceutical medicines used to treat bronchial and lung disorders.
Senega Snakeroot Scientific Facts
- Other names: Seneca snakeroot, milkwort, mountain flax.
- French: Polygala.
- Spanish: Poligala.
- Environment: Rocky soils of eastern North America. This plant is farmed in other parts of the world as a medicinal herb.
- Description: Vivacious plant of the Polygalaceae family, with ground, evergreen stem from which some herbaceous stems grow up to 30 cm high. It has little, bluish, pink, or white flowers growing in the tip of these stems. It has a sour flavor.
- Parts of the plant used medicinally: The whole plant, especially its root.
Healing Properties and Indications
The whole plant, especially its root, is very rich in saponins, vegetal substances which, like soap, produce foam in contact with water since it decreases its surface tension. The main saponins in senega snakeroot are polygalic acid and senegine, two substances that increase the secretions of the bronchi.
All these substances produce a thinning of the pathogen mucus of the bronchi, making it more foamy and abundant, easing its expulsion and regenerating the respiratory mucous membrane.
Senega snakeroot is a purely mucolytic and expectorant plant. Its use is recommended for bronchitis, bronchial catarrh, bronchial asthma, and pneumonia, as well as in pharyngitis, the flu, and cough. Senega snakeroot also has laxative properties due to its content in saponins and emetic (vomit-producing) properties in high doses.
How to use Senega Snakeroot
- Decoction with five to ten grams of leaves or ground root per liter of water, boiling for three minutes. Drink three or four cups daily, sweetened with honey.
- Root powder: The recommended dose is from 0.5 to 2 g daily.
Several species of the genus Polygala have a similar composition, though senega species is the most employed due to its richness in active components. In Europe, there are two species of this genus.
- Polygala amara L., which grows in northern Europe and western Asia.
- Polygala rupestris Pourr., which grows in the southern regions of Europe.
George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. “Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants.” George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. Ed. Francesc X. Gelabert. Vols. 1 San Fernando de Henares: Editorial Safeliz, 2000. 327. Print.