Botanical and Common Names
- Family Asteraceae [Compositae]
- Senecio aureus (Liferoot, Golden Ragwort, Squaw Weed,Golden Senecio, Golden Groundsel, Ragwort, Coughweed, Cocash Weed, Grundy Swallow)
- Senecio bicolor (Dusty Miller, Cineraria Maritima)
- Senecio jacoboea (Ragwort, Ragweed, St. James’ Wort, Stinking Nanny Staggerwort, Dog Standard, Cankerwort, Stammerwort)
- Senecio nemorensis (Alpine Ragwort, Squaw Weed, Life Root)
- Senecio vulgaris (Groundsel, Grundy Swallow, Ground Glutton, Simson)
- Use only under professional supervision.
- Do not take in excessive doses, even for short periods, as it is highly toxic to the liver.
- Do not apply to broken skin.
- Ragwort is highly toxic to cattle and sheep and is normally avoided by grazing animals.
The Senecio genus is one of the largest among the flowering plants and accounts for more than 1,500 species. The plant is native to much of Asia, Europe, North Africa, and naturalized in North America and Australia. It is a biennial or perennial herb, growing to about three feet with lobed compound leaves and dense clusters of bright yellow daisy-type flowers. It thrives in open grassland, meadows, wastelands, and along roadsides and beaches. It flowers most of the year and considered to be a noxious weed in many parts of the world.
Its use today is not popular despite having an impressive historical background in herbal medicine. It was often prescribed to help lower fever by inducing sweating.
The Greek physician Dioscorides (c.40-90 CE) recommended the herb, as did two other “fathers” of herbalism, Gerard and Culpeper. Modern herbalists recommend it as a remedy for biliousness. It is also a soothing refrigerant for teething babies, a practice which dates back to the Middle Ages.
- pyrrolizidine alkaloids (including seneciphylline, senecionine, and jacoline)
- volatile oil
Isolated pyrrolizidine alkaloids are highly toxic to the liver.
Dutch research in 1994 showed that ragwort plants grown with reduced levels of ligh produce significantly lower levels of toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids.
As the alkaloids are known to inhibit cell division, some researchers are hopeful that it may one day be possible to isolate the active principles and use them to slow down or arrest growth of malignant tumors.
Although no longer taken internally, the herb is still useful as a poultice, ointment, or lotion applied to relieve pain and inflammation, including that of rheumatism and rheumatoid arthritis and such neuralgic conditions as sciatica.
Dusty Miller is a related species native to the Caribbean and used as a treatment for cataracts.
Liferoot, another relative native to North America, was used by the Catawaba people to treat gynecological problems in general and to relieve labor pains in particular. Today, the plant is recommended only for external use as a douche for excessive vaginal discharge.