The healing power of senega

Senega is a white flowering plant that is native to Southern Canada and the Eastern US. It can grow to a height of 50 centimeters. It is not an edible plant but it does have various medicinal properties. Several Indian peoples used this plant against snake bites. In English the plant is called snakeroot or snake root. Other uses of the Indians are for convulsions, sore throats and toothaches. The root is chewed for these medicinal applications. A paste of the root is placed on bleeding wounds. Senega is still used in phytotherapy, especially for cough, asthma and bronchitis. NB! This article is written from the personal view of the author and may contain information that is not scientifically substantiated and/or in line with the general view.

Botanical drawing senega / Source: FE Kohler, publisher; Gustav Pabst, editor; L. Mueller & CF Schmidt, illustrators; K. Gunther, Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)


  • Senega in traditional medicine
  • Characteristics of senega
  • Senega production
  • Naming
  • Active substances
  • Senega for bronchitis and cough
  • Other medicinal plants for respiratory problems
  • Dose and safety

Senega in traditional medicine

Senega is mainly used in traditional Indian medicine to treat snakebites. This happened with the root that was chewed and a paste of which was applied to the snake bite itself. The root is traditionally used in a tea or decoction for lung diseases such as pneumonia. This has led to scientific research into the effects of senega root on the lungs and it indeed appears that it contains mucus-loosening components that promote coughing up mucus. When there is less mucus in the lungs, pneumonia can heal faster and other respiratory infections such as bronchitis also benefit. Some Indian peoples used a tea made from the bark of the plant to help a miscarriage leave the body.

Characteristics of senega

Senega blooms in June. The plant dies in the fall and that is the moment the root is harvested. The root is then dried so that it can be used later. A decoction or decoction can be made from the root. This is a type of tea that is made by boiling the root in a pan of water and then letting it boil over a low heat for 5 to 10 minutes. The water is then drunk.

Senega production

Senega is added in minimal quantities in cough sweets, cough syrups, gargles and tea mixes that help with coughs. Senega root is grown on a small scale in Japan, India and Brazil. Canada is the largest producer of senega root. The plant is widely found growing wild in this country so it does not need to be cultivated. It is mainly Indians who find and sell the root, for an amount that a few years ago was between 6 and 8 dollars per kilo.


In Latin, senega is called Polygala senega . In Dutch we know the names Senega, Rattlesnake Root and Polygala of Virginia. Synonyms in Latin for this plant are Polygala albida and Senega officinalis .

Active substances

The root of senega is used for phytotherapeutic purposes. The main active substances in this root are triterpenoid saponins such as E- and Z-senegins and E-Z-saponins, presenegenin, senegenin, hydroxysenegenin, polygalacenoic acid and senegic acid. Furthermore, methyl salicylate is responsible for the typical smell of this plant. This root also contains phenolic acids such as p-coumarin, ferulic acid, sinapic acid and p-hydroxycinnamic acid, lipids, and the sorbitol derivative polygalitol.

Senega for bronchitis and cough

The saponins of senega root make it a well-functioning expectorant, an expectorant. Coughing up lung mucus and throat mucus is promoted. Scientists suspect that the stomach mucosa is stimulated by the senega root and that this stimulation causes more mucus to be released by the mucous membranes in the respiratory tract. Of secondary importance is that senega root has a resistance-enhancing and disinfectant effect. These medicinal qualities together give herbalists reason to prescribe this medicinal plant for the following respiratory indications:

  • Bronchitis,
  • Asthmatic bronchitis,
  • Cough, spastic cough,
  • Whooping cough,
  • Asthma.

Other medicinal plants for respiratory problems

Like ipeca root, senega can have an irritating effect on the gastrointestinal tract. That is why some herbalists prefer golden primrose, aniseed, eucalyptus, hyssop as medicinal plants for respiratory diseases.

Dose and safety

There are four ways to use this medicinal plant.

  • Carrot: Take 1.5 to 3 grams per day.
  • Mother tincture: 3 times 30 drops per day.
  • Decoct: half a teaspoon of root in one cup of tea, boil for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Tincture: 1 to 2 ml (1:5 in 60%).

No side effects are normally expected at this therapeutic dose. Some people with hypersensitivity may experience nausea. In too large doses, vomiting is a side effect. Because senega root can lead to stomach ulcers, it should not be used for too long. The root should not be given during pregnancy. During an acute phase of a respiratory disease, senega should not be used because its irritating effect may aggravate cough.