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Life Root


Scientific Name(S): Senecio aureus L. Family: Asteraceae (Compositae)

Common Name(S): Life root, golden groundsel, golden senecio, ragwort, false valerian, coughweed, cocashweed, female regulator, grundy-swallow

Botany: Life root is a perennial herb with a slender, erect stem that bears bright yellow flower heads. It grows to a height of about ≈ 1.2 meters in swampy thickets and moist ground in the eastern and central U. S. The lower leaves are heart-shaped. The entire dried plant, not only the roots, is used medicinally.

History: Do not confuse life root with a variety of other plants that have been ascribed broad healing powers, including the mandrake root and ginseng root. Life root has played an important role in traditional Native American herbal medicine and was used by the Catawba women as a tea to relieve the pain of childbirth as well as to hasten labor. The plant has been used to treat a variety of illnesses, including hemorrhage and colds. Despite concern about its safety, this plant continues to be found in some herbal preparations designed to control irregular menses and other gynecologic disturbances.

Uses of Life Root

Life root has been used as a traditional medicine to hasten labor and relieve labor pains. It has also been used to treat a wide range of illnesses, from colds to hemorrhage.

Side Effects of Life Root

Use is not recommended; the plant is toxic and possibly carcinogenic.

Toxicology: Pyrrolizidine alkaloids have been associated with the development of hypertensive pulmonary vascular disease. However, of greatest concern appears to be the association of this class of alkaloids with the development of hepatotoxicity and liver cancer. In general, pyrrolizidine alkaloids have been shown to produce toxic necrosis of the liver, particularly in grazing animals that have ingested large amounts of plants containing these compounds. There is strong evidence that such alkaloids are involved in human liver diseases, including primary liver cancer (see monograph on Comfrey). The mechanism of pyrrolizidine alkaloids can lead to veno-occlusive disease and liver congestion leading to acute and chronic liver disease. The Senecio species are generally most toxic when young, and there is some indication that the combination of alkaloids in S. aureus may be at the lower end of the toxicity scale for this genus. However, because of the presence of pyrrolizidine alkaloids, do not recommended this plant for internal use.

Life root is contraindicated during pregnancy and lactation, partially because of its abortifacient and uterine tonic effects. Animal studies confirm transferring of pyrrolizidine alkaloids into the placenta and breast milk.

Summary: Life root has been used in traditional medicine for the management of disorders of the female reproductive tract, but there is little pharmacologic evidence to support these uses. Furthermore, members of the Senecio genus contain hepatotoxic alkaloids. Therefore, the ingestion of this plant cannot be recommended for any purpose.

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