Herb: Senega Snake Root

Latin name: Polygala senega

Family: Polygalaceae (Milkwort Family)

Medicinal use of Senega Snake Root:

Seneca snake root was employed medicinally by several native North American Indian tribes, who used it to treat a variety of complaints. 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.

Description of the plant:


30 cm
(11 3/4 inch)


Habitat of the herb:

Rocky hills and woods on dry and mainly calcareous soils.

Propagation of Senega Snake Root:

Seed - sow spring or autumn in a cold frame. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Division. Cuttings of young shoots in a frame in late spring.

Cultivation of the herb:

Rocky hills and woods on dry and mainly calcareous soils.

Known hazards of Polygala senega:

The plant is poisonous in large quantities, causing violent purging and vomiting.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.