The Forager’s: Life Root Profile
Also, Known As:
- False Valerian
- Golden Ragwort
- Golden Senecio
The herb known as the life root is a perennial wildflower species of the daisy family of plants – Asteraceae; it reaches about half to two m in height. A small rosette of basal leaves approximately six to eight inches across is found at the base of each plant. The basal leaves have blades that are normally two inches in length and two inches wide. The leaves are cordate orbicular in shape, possessing crenate, dentate edges without any hair on the surface. The length of the blades is matched by the length of the slender petioles of the basal leaves. Each rosette develops a flowering stalk from its center which grows up. Usually, two to three alternate leaves are borne along this flowering stalk. The size of the alternate leaves is smaller compared to the size of the basal leaves. During the blooming period and the time following the bloom, the alternate leaves, as well as the stalk, are devoid of hairs. The flowering stalk bears a flat headed panicle or corymb of flower heads at its tip. The panicle bears slender and hair free branches. The floral heads resemble a daisy; each is about half an inch to one inch wide. Numerous golden yellow disk florets can be seen in the center of each floral head, each of these disks is surrounded by six to sixteen yellow colored ray florets. The florets on the disk and the ray florets are fertile and take part in the sexual cycle of the plant. Many linear green colored bracts in a single series surround the base of the floral head. Life root flowers bloom from middle to late spring, floral blooms typically last for three weeks in a season. A bullet-shaped achene with white tuffs of hair or fruit will replace each floret. Wind action results in the distribution of the achene and the plants are normally propagated through the agency of wind in the wild. Life root is also characterized by possessing a short root-stock with spreading fibrous roots that produce rhizomes or stolons at ground level. At favorable sites, the plant may produce vegetative colonies of plants.
The daisy family forms one of the largest genera of flowering plants in the plant kingdom. The botanist Senecio includes two thousand and more species in this genus – many of these plants are commonly met with in herbal dispensaries or in a garden as an ornamental. The life root is a native North American species of the daisy family, with a long historical and herbal use as a treatment for an assortment of gynecological disorders. The remedy made from the life root was found to be of great use by Indian women facing the pains of childbirth, it was traditionally used to speed up a protracted labor and to ease the pain. The early colonists made similar use of the plant, and many herbalists in 19th-century America placed great faith in the life root as a remedial “female regulator.” These herbalists employed the plant to treat many types of common as well as rare disorders including leucorrhea – excessive vaginal discharge – as well as all kinds of menstrual problems; it was also used to treat different types of irregularities associated with menopause. Life root was used as a remedy for TB, much before the introduction of chemical compounds used in modern treatment for TB. In the old days, a person down with tuberculosis was almost certainly going to die as medications simply did not exists, at this time, the early stages of the disease were relieved symptomatically using the life root as a herbal remedy. Tuberculosis patients in colonial times would be given a teaspoonful of the fluid extract of life root mixed in a little water; this was believed to induce a tonic effect on the body of the patients. The treatment of urinary tract infections and disorders was also treated using the life root remedy by traditional herbalists; these herbalists also treated kidney stones using the remedy.
The life root herb is also called by other names including, “golden senecio,” the “ragwort,” the “false valerian,” and the “squaw weed.” The herb is characterized by the bearing bright yellow floral heads in full bloom. It is a member of the family Asteraceae or the daisy family of plants. The habitat types in which the life root can be found growing includes swampy grounds and places covered by moist thickets that are seen along the eastern and central United States of America. Herbalist, traditionally prepared the medication using the entire dried plant and not just the root as is commonly assumed. The life root had great popularity even up to the year 1979 when it was still among the principal herbal ingredients in the famous old proprietary folk remedy known as Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound – which was sold at so many places. On chemical analysis of the life root, small but detectable quantities of the toxic alkaloid senecionine have been found at concentrations of about 0.006 percent of dry weight. The principal chemical compound found in the plant, senecionine is a member of the group of hepatotoxic -liver poisons – pyrrolizidine alkaloids, this chemical when given in a few doses can induce chronic disease of the liver in laboratory rats. Human liver diseases and their originators have been analyzed and a strong possibility exists that it is such alkaloids that are involved in some way; this includes the onset of primary liver cancer in many people. The presence of this chemical alkaloid makes all discussion of life root as a potential remedy irrelevant. There is no distinct therapeutic benefits and self-medication is not desirable for any condition. The safety of the medication is seriously compromised due to the presence of the alkaloid compound senecionine. The use of this medication has been discontinued in conventional medications many years ago and its present limited employment in herbal medicine must also be discontinued as it is a risky medication.
Plant Part Used:
Dried aerial parts.
Herbal Medicine Use:
There are still some instances in which the life root is used in herbal medicine, it is still used as a uterine tonic quite safely – the remedy strengthens and aids the uterine lining. Remedies made from the life root are particularly useful in dealing with different types of disorders affecting menopause in women. The remedy made from the life root may also be useful in dealing with the case of delayed or suppressed menstruation. The topical remedy made from the life root can be used as a douche in treating leucorrhoea. The remedy made from life root is also used to have a great reputation and functioned as a general tonic to treat tuberculosis and other debilitated states affecting the human body.
The whole herb is medicinal and is sold along with the roots in the commercial herbal market. Herbalists in England traditionally made use of the European sub-species Vulgaris, locally called the “groundsel,” this herb was very popular in England for several centuries and was a fixture in herbal medicine. The early English colonialists in the new world made use of the American sub-species; the New England colonists in the earliest settlements used the herb in many remedial preparations. The remedy made from life root tends to act moderately on the body with a persistent action; it is a blend of relaxing and stimulating effects. The life root remedy has a sharp and bitter taste, often inducing a full tonic impression on the stomach, the nervous system, as well as the uterine lining. Life root is principally used as a nervine tonic to treat female weaknesses and problems with the uterus; it has a mild but prompt soothing effect on the menstrual cycle. The remedy made from life root was also used extensively to treat problems including neuralgia and rheumatism affecting the womb in women, it was used in alleviating the aches and cramps incident in the gestation period in women under a term of pregnancy. The remedy made from life root is especially helpful in the treatment of mild cases of leucorrhea and prolapsus; it is also used in treating uterine hysteria. Life root remedy is used in boosting feeble appetite and to alleviate aches of the back – that affects so many women. The life root remedy may also possibly be beneficial for disorders affecting the kidneys and in treating urinary problems. The tonic actions of the life root remedy are the principal reason for its effectiveness at promoting proper menstruation and in enlivening a languid and partially atonic amenorrhea in women. The life root remedy cannot be considered to be a forcing emmenagogue; it is more of an aid in cases of passive menorrhagia as it induces a toning effect on the uterine lining. When life root is taken in the form of a warm herbal infusion, it helps expedite the process of parturition in cases of uterine and nervous fatigue affecting a woman. Women experiencing disorders in the kidney due to the problems affecting the uterus feel the influence of this remedy moderately well – the remedy being effective in treating female specific renal disorders. The use of the life root remedy is especially beneficial for the lungs, while claims about its potential to cure tubercular consumption are clearly false; the remedy is unquestionably effective in treating debilitating coughs in patients. The lifer root remedy’s ability to effectively treat sub-acute and chronic dysentery has been given great value by some physicians; they prefer using the life root remedy in place of hydrastis as a tonic to treat just such disorders. The true character and nature of the life root remedy in these disorders can only be understood well by remembering its effective tonic and nervine effect.
Growing Life Root:
The life root is found all over eastern North America. Habitats in which the plant may be seen include damp grounds and marshes, and riparian habitats. The remedy is prepared from aerial parts of the plant that are harvested during the summer season.
Life root contains a volatile oil, pyrrolizidine alkaloids (including senecine, senecionine, and otosenine), tannins, and resin. In isolation, the pyrrolizidine alkaloids are highly toxic to the liver.
Infusion: the infusion of the life root can be prepared by pouring a cup of boiling water over one to three teaspoonfuls of the dried herb kept in a pan. The herb must be left to infuse and steep in the hot water for ten to fifteen minutes before it is cooled, strained and drank. This remedy may be taken three times daily to treat various disorders or as indicated by a herbalist.
Tincture: the life root tincture can be taken at doses of one to four ml three times daily to treat various disorders.
Harvesting Life Root:
The best time to collect the herb is just before the flowers open up in the summer months.
The remedy made from the life root can also be combined with other helpful and beneficial herbs such as the St. John’s wort, the oats or the pasque flower and used in treating menopausal problems and disorders.