Senega plant, scientifically known as Polygala senega or Polygata senega var.latifolia, has been known to medicinal world for long. Senega root is the key part, providing most of its health benefits. Senega root is also known as Senega snake root, Radix senegae, Rattlesnake root, milkwort and mountain flax.
Senega root has a peculiar shape. It has an elongated tapering grayish to brownish-yellow colored root with a tufted crown. The crown is linked to the bases of large number of aerial stems, buds and small shoots; and consists of numerous purplish buds. The root is either found singly or divided into branches just below the crown portion. It shows presence of keel (a sharp spiral tapering potion). It has a smooth and splintery fracture. Senega tastes sweet at first and then gets acrid. It has a characteristic odour.
Varieties of allied drugs of Senega root:
- Indian senega (chinenesis root) – consists of root and rootstock of Polygala chinensis Linn. belonging to Polygalaceae family. It does not contain saponin. And it was further showed that Indian senega is a root of Andrachne aspera of Euphorbiaceae family. It is without keel.
- Spurious Indian senega – consists of root of Glinus oppositifolia of the Molluginaceae family. It has saponin and starch.
- White senega – consists of root of Polygala alba of Polygalaceae family. It does not show keel. It has less activity and less acrid taste.
Chemical constitution of Senega
- Major constituent of senega is a mixture of at least 8 different saponin glycosides which are triterpenoid structurally. Senegin (4%) and polygalic acid (5.5%) are the saponin glycosides. Senegin on hydrolysis yields senegenin, senegenic acid and presenegenin majorly whereas glucose, galactose, rhamnose, xylose and fucose are the sugar parts. Other derived forms of presenegenin are senegin-II.
- Minor constituents include polygalitol, methyl salicylate, fixed oil and sterol.
Senega also contains another glycoside i.e.primveroside.
Health Benefits of Senega
Expectorant/emetic effect – senega is used as a stimulant expectorant and in chronic bronchitis. Saponin glycosides show irritating effect on gastric mucosal surface and hence enhance secretion of mucous in bronchioles. It is can also be administered through suppository form. It is prescribed with other expectorants because senega in large doses causes vomiting.
Senega is a persistent stimulant found to be effective not only to respiratory tract but also to other mucous membranes and uterus and circulation. It can be used for pneumonia and throat infections. Its mucous secretion effect eases out the wheezing property and it also efficiently treats whooping cough.
Senega root in the form of gargle is used for treating pharyngitis. It is also used to treat bacterial manifestation in respiratory tract diseases like pertussis.
One important medication for conjestive chest treatment is senega and ammonium mixture. It loosens phlegm and removes throat irritation. It is also suitable for those suffering from high blood pressure.
Enhanced secretory effect – Because of stimulant effect, senega increases secretion of saliva as well as sweat glands and hence shows sialagogue and diaphoretic effect.
Diuretic effect – Senega shows irritant effect on faeces. It possesses a sweet taste due to the presence of polygalitol and marks its use as a diuretic.
Miscellaneous use of Senega
- Senega is used for treating snake-bites. It is a common practice of chewing the root and mixing it with saliva to apply it on the region of snake-bite after cutting the wound. This is a common first-aid measure.
- Polygala senega is believed to calm mind and body and hence works well in treating restlessness, anxiety and insomnia related problems.
- Senega is also shown to have cathartic action. It effectively helps in purging out the evolved gases in stomach with ease.
- Senega may also help to treat skin infections like eczema, psoriasis and multiple sclerosis. It has also been used to treat auto-immune disease like rheumatoid arthritis and gout.
- Saponins in senega have also shown to treat non-insulin dependent diabetes.
The use of senega in curing various conditions still demands more research and clinical trials. And those conditions are lung diseases like asthma and emphysema as well as inflammation of upper respiratory tract including nose, throat and chest.
Adverse reactions- long term use of senega increases the irritation effect and hence causes stomach upset leading to diarrhea and vomiting. Senega also causes headache, nausea and dizziness on consuming it for longer time. It has also been found that senega showed abdominal pain, mental dullness issues. It can also cause visual disturbances and vertigo.
Precautions while using Senega
Senega is a strict no for pregnant and breast-feeding ladies. It worsens ulcers and inflammatory bowel disorders and hence should be avoided for patients having ulcerative colitis, crohn’s disease and gastro-oesophageal reflux disease. It must also be not given if you are having fever.
Don’t use senega if you have sensitivity towards aspirin or drugs containing salicylates. Diabetic patients must watch their blood sugar level cautiously while taking senega.
Common Senega preparations
- Senega syrup- contains senega 10% alcohol, sucrose and water.
- Senega liquid extract- it is prepared with alcohol and made alkaline with ammonia.
- Concentrated senega infusion- infusion of senega in alcohol is prepared and then is made slightly alkaline with ammonia.
Senega also comes in the form of lozenges, teas, tinctures, syrups, dried powdered roots and extracts.
Dosage and storage
Usually senega is added in ½ or 1 tablespoon in a cup of boiling water and is made to infuse for 10-15 minutes. Such 1-2 ml tincture is taken thrice a day.
Storage – Senega should be stored in a well closed air-tight container free from moisture and humidity.
Senega has a come a long way from being just used in snake-bites traditionally to treating respiratory problems, although it is recommended to be cautious while using it. Its health benefits were first discovered by Seneca Indians followed by Native American tribals and later even with the Europeans.