Senega is a medicinal herb that has been used for thousands of years throughout Asia.
This article will look at the head benefits of Polygala tenuifolia, as well as its safety and history.
Table of Contents
What is Senega?
Senega is commonly used to treat Lyme disease and central nervous diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and neurasthenia. The herb is also known for its anti-inflammatory properties.
This plant can be found growing wild throughout Asia including China, Korea, and Siberia. It is a commonly used herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
Polygala tenuifolia is the plant’s Latin name, while its common name includes Senega, Chinese senega root, Chinese milkwort, Yuan Zhi (Chinese), and Onji (East Asia).
There are more than 100 known plant compounds in Senega; some of the major constituents include:
- Tenuifolin (TEN)
- Onjisaponin B (OB)
- 3,6’-disinapoyl sucrose (DISS)
- Senegenin (tenuigenin)
- Polygalacic acid
Health Benefits of Senega:
Below are the top research-backed health benefits of Senega and its active plant compounds.
1. May Treat Lyme Disease
Senega is one of the many herbs used to treat Lyme disease and its co-infections.
Lyme disease expert and herbal author, Stephen Harrod Buhner notes that Senega works as an NF-kB inhibitor. This means it can help shut down the bacteria’s inflammatory processes, reducing or eliminating many of the symptoms associated with Lyme disease.
Lyme disease can trigger the development of a condition called PANDAS (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders). PANDAS and Lyme disease share similarities, while also having many differences. Several herbs that are used to treat Lyme disease may also be used to treat PANDAS. If seizures are present with PANDAS, Senega root can help regenerate damaged nerves, according to Stephen Buhner.
Summary:Herbal experts indicate that Senega’s antibacterial effects may work to benefit Lyme disease and PANDAS. Clinical research is needed for confirmation of these findings.
2. May Help Treat Alzheimer’s Disease
Senega is widely known for helping to improve cognitive function, especially for those with Alzheimer’s disease.
Tenuifolin, a primary plant constituent in Senega, was investigated in an animal study. The researchers found that the treatment of tenuifolin improved brain function, specifically learning and memory.
Senega also demonstrated anti-neuroinflammation activity. Researchers concluded that with Polygala tenuifolia‘s ability to reduce inflammation within the brain, it can be used as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.
Another study revealed similar results. Senega was found to improve learning and memory by reducing brain inflammation and oxidative stress and improving nerve communication throughout the brain.
The main active constituents of Senega (DISS, OB, and tenuifolin) were tested on cognitive function in an animal study. All three constituents showed promising results, however, DISS revealed the strongest impact on the brain. DISS improved brain function, specifically learning and memory through the development and growth of new nerves.
Summary:Senega has been found to benefit cognition, specially for those with Alzheimer’s disease. Clinical human studies are needed to verify these findings.
3. May Have Anti-Inflammatory Properties
Senega benefits the body through its anti-inflammatory properties.
Several active compounds of Senega were tested in a study for their anti-inflammatory effects. The results suggested that the compounds phenolic and triterpenoid saponins had strong anti-inflammatory properties by reducing inflammatory cytokine production.
Twenty-three compounds derived from the roots of Senega showed to have notable anti-inflammatory effects in a study.
Summary:Senega has been found to possess compounds that help reduce inflammation, however, human studies are required in order to confirm this finding.
4. Other Potential Benefits
- May Treat the Zika Virus (with neural complications): A tincture of Senega (30 drops 3 times daily for 30 days) is part of Stephen Buhner’s protocol for treating the Zika virus with neural complications.
Summary:Senega has been tied to a wide variety of health benefits. Human clinical trials are needed to verify these findings.
Safety Class: 2b, 2d
Interaction Class: A
According to the Botanical Safety Handbook,The safety class of ‘2b’ indicates that Senega should not be used during pregnancy. The safety class of ‘2d’ indicates other specific use restrictions.
The Botanical Safety Handbooks also states that the interaction class of ‘A’ suggests that no clinically relevant interactions are expected with Senega.
Overdose/high doses of Senega may cause vomiting and irritate the gastrointestinal tract.
Allergic reactions to this plant may occur.
It is advised to avoid use in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), ulcers, and gastritis.
Pregnancy & Lactation:
Stephen Buhner mentions that as an emmenagogue (increases menstrual flow) and uterine stimulant, Senega should not be consumed during pregnancy.
The Botanical Safety Handbook indicates that due to the plant’s uterine-stimulating effects, it is not for use during pregnancy, unless under the care of a qualified health practitioner.
There is no information on the safety of Senega for use during lactation.
Herbal expert Stephen Buhner recommends the following Senega dosages:
- Tincture (dried root): Take 30 drops up to 3 times daily
- Dried herb: Consume 1 to 3 grams daily
The Senega plant is often grown wild throughout Asia, in moist soil environments with plenty of sunlight.
Naming & Taxonomy:
Polygala tenuifolia is the plant’s scientific name. It belongs to the Polygalaceae (i.e. milkwort) family of plants.
Senega is a small perennial herb with thin wiry stems and little blue-purple flowers.
The roots and aerial parts of the plant are used for medicinal purposes.
Polygala tenuifolia should not be confused with the plant Schizonepeta tenuifolia (Japanese catnip) as they are different plants with different health benefits.
Other plants of the Polygala species include:
- Polygala myrtifolia
- Polygala polygama
- Polygala campestris
- Polygala cyparissias
- Polygala paniculata
- Polygala pulchella
- Polygala sabulosa
History & Traditional Use:
Polygala tenuifolia has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and throughout Asia for over 2,000 years, particularly for treating inflammatory diseases, neurasthenia, anxiety-related conditions, and memory.
Senega has been used to aid insomnia, memory impairment, palpitations, coughs, swelling, boils, sores, and pain. In addition, in China and Korea, the plant has been used as a tonic, tranquilizer, antipsychotic, neuroprotector, and expectorant.
In traditional folk medicine, Senega root has been used as an expectorant and stimulant for bronchial asthma, chronic bronchitis, and whooping cough.
Polygala tenuifolia has been traditionally used for thousands of years and is used for treating various ailments, including Lyme disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
Most of Senega’s health benefits are supported by animal and lab-based research, as well as traditional reviews. More research, in particular human clinical trials, is needed to confirm the health benefits of Senega.
It is recommended to always consult with your primary health care professional before adding any new dietary supplements to your regimen, especially if you are taking any medication or are pregnant or nursing.
Gardner, Z. & McGuffin, M. (2013). Botanical safety handbook (2nd ed.). American Herbal Products Association.
Oh, J.J. & Kim, S.J. (2013). Inhibitory effect of the root of Polygala tenuifolia on bradykinin and COX 2-mediated pain and inflammatory activity. Tropical Journal of Pharmaceutical Research; 12(5). https://www.ajol.info/index.php/tjpr/article/view/95946
Vinh, L.B., Heo, M., Phong, N.V., Ali, I., Koh, Y.S., Kim, Y.H., & Yang, S.Y. (2020). Bioactive compounds from Polygala tenuifolia and their inhibitory effects on lipopolysaccharide-stimulated pro-inflammatory cytokine production in bone marrow-derived dendritic cells. Plants (Basel, Switzerland), 9(9), 1240. https://doi.org/10.3390/plants9091240
Wang, X., Xiao, H., Wu, Y., Kong, L., Chen, J., Yang, J. & Hu, X. (2021). Active constituent of Polygala tenuifolia attenuates cognitive deficits by rescuing hippocampal neurogenesis in APP/PS1 transgenic mice. BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies; 21(1), 267. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12906-021-03437-5