Senecio aureus

erikspictures265Senecio aureaus, ( renamed Packera aurea) is a plant we love and grow here at the nursery. Two common names for Senecio are Golden Ragwort and Liferoot, the latter referring to its long history in medicinal use. An indigenous perennial, Senecio is in the Asteraceae family and is hardy from zones 3-9. It prefers moist soil and a shady location. Here in Maine, earlier in warmer climates, it blooms in late May to early June and holds its blooms for an extended period. We find it to be a great native flower for attracting butterflies and pollinators. The deep golden yellow daisy-like flowers grow atop sparsely leafed stems that are 1-2 feet tall. At the base of these stems, lie the shiny heart-shaped evergreen leaves. This basal foliage can remain an attractive ground cover year round. It naturalizes through self-seeding and by underground roots creeping horizontally and forming a large colony. We are always surprised at how quickly this plant spreads, a great choice if you have a large area you’d like to cover. We have also used this plant in small applications, in other words, you can include it in a mixed perennial bed.
As a medicinal plant, Senecio has had an important role in Native American medicine. It has been used to treat colds, hemorrhages, and as a diuretic. Senecio is a plant that has most often been used in herbal or homeopathic preparations that can help to regulate menses and to aid in any gynecological issues….it promotes menstrual flow, helps to strengthen reproductive organs, is used to treat urinary infections, acts as a natural birth control, as well as helping to relieve pain during childbirth. Though it has longed been used in the application of natural remedies, a bit of caution should be used. I myself do not tincture this plant. It is still used in professionally prepared homeopathic remedies. Like many plants, Senecio contains a naturally occurring alkaloid called Pyrrolizidine. Pyrrolizidine has been shown to produce toxicity to the liver ( hepatotoxicity), especially in grazing mammals. Because of this, most mammals or animals avoid it. This particular alkaloid in plants is used as a defense mechanism against herbivores that may feed on it. Some insects, however, are fairly resistant to its effect and actually choose plants containing these alkaloids. By chewing on leaves that contain pyrrolizidine they ingest the chemical into their own system, thus helping to ward off their own predators. Gardners should not be alarmed by the fact that Senecio contains these alkaloids, they naturally occur in the chemical composition of many plants (like comfrey and borage) and are really no threat to the home gardener. I am fascinated by the ability indigenous people had for understanding the methods used to extract these alkaloids and resins and to incorporate them into their remedies. Pretty amazing knowledge! When coming to the nursery this spring, be sure to check out Senecio aureaus, it may be just the plant you’re looking for.

4 comments on “Senecio aureus

    • It is a nice little plant…actually not so little, seeing that the flowers bloom on 1-2′ stalks, but the basal foliage is more a of a ground cover and keeps its nice evergreen appearance throughout the season. The Catawba Indians of S. and N. Carolina made a tea out of it to help with the pain of childbirth. It does always amaze me that people before us knew what plants to use and how to administer them…I suppose their days ( their existence and survival) were so acutely focused on the natural world that they learned a tremendous amount from observation. Love learning about these things! happy day to you, Marian.

  1. I have long been fascinated by how early humans figured out which plants were toxic, which were beneficial, and how different plant parts could be used as remedies. Observation was critical, of course, but I wonder if they were simply much more closely attuned to plants’ properties than we are. As most plant lovers sense (and science is now verifying), plants send out all kinds of signals. Just as animals learn to avoid certain plants by taste and smell, I suspect that early humans (and I heard this recently) had much more highly developed senses of taste and smell than we do. Maybe just rubbing a leaf between their fingers, with a sniff and a bit of a taste, could tell them a whole array of things about the plant that our blunted senses can not even imagine. It would be interesting to do a bit of time travel to live in their skins for a while. We likely would be dumbfounded by what we don’t know.

    • It is truly amazing and here we are trying to reach back into our primitive imprint to recover some of this knowledge. I wonder also if our native ancestors had a closer relationship to animals and observed what they ate. I think about plants like Senecio or Coltsfoot, both very potent plant medicines and I wonder how they knew not to administer too much ? I’ll be teaching a class on making tinctures and salves this summer…we’ll use mostly plants foraged or ones we grow here, I love having a pantry of home grown/home-brewed medicines. Quite certain our elderberry tincture kept us healthy this winter! Great comment and conversation, thank you…i do love talking about ( and thinking about ) these topics! Happy day to you. denise

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