Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Which Snakeroot is it???

I was talking to this woman one day and since the wasps are very aggressive this time of year, we started talking about wasp stings. I’d said that I seemed to be getting more and more sensitive to them. My recovery time after getting stung is getting longer and I seem to have more difficulty breathing afterwards.

I hadn’t had many encounters with stings before. I’d had the odd yellow jacket sting and a few bee stings as a child, but since moving here, it has become something that happens fairly often.

“Well, there were a traveler who were visiting when I was a girl.” She said to me.

“I got stung right bad by a big ole wasp and he took a root out of his pocket and told me to chew on a piece of it. H’it’ were shaped just like a rattlesnake’s rattler and he called it snakeroot. I took just a bead off of it and chewed it and was all better very soon.”

She identified the root as being snakeroot.

Well, there are a gang of plants called “snakeroot’. Most of them got the name by being considered a treatment for snakebite at one time or another.

I’ve been trying to find her snakeroot based on her description of the shape of the root, but have come up empty. There are several possible candidates.


The most obvious would be Aristolochia serpentaria or Virginia Snakeroot.


James Mooney says in his Sacred Formulas of the Cherokee which lists some of the plants used locally:

UNASTE’TSITIYU ~ “very small root” ~ Aristolochia serpentaria – Virginia or black snakeroot: Decoction of root blown upon patient for fever and feverish headache, and drunk for coughs; root chewed and spit upon wound to cure snake bites; bruised root placed in hollow tooth for toothache, and held against nose made sore by constant blowing in colds. Dispensatory: “A stimulant tonic, acting also as a diaphoretic or diuretic, according to the mode of its application; ***also been highly recommended in intermittent fevers and though itself generally inadequate to the cure often proves serviceable as an adjunct to Peruvian bark or sulphate of quinia.” Also used for typhous diseases, in dyspepsia, as a gargle for sore throat, as a mild stimulant in typhoid fevers, and to promote eruptions. The genus derives its scientific name from its supposed efficacy in promoting menstrual discharge, and some species have acquired the “reputation of antidotes for the bites of serpents.”
But Virginia snakeroot doesn’t have the root structure of the plant I’m looking for.

I’m thinking a much better candidate would be Polygala senega L. or Seneca Snakeroot. This plant would have the root structure I’m looking for and has a common name of “rattlesnake root”. It’s a much better fit. I’ve seen both of these plants growing here in the mountains and know they would be available.

But I’m still sort of bemused as to why either would be given for a wasp sting, unless there was some sort of respiratory distress involved. I can see a sort of sympathetic magic justification for the Seneca. And wasp stings are self -limiting as long as there is no allergic reaction.

What do you think? Any herbalists out there with any ideas as to what she was talking about?

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Disclaimer! Please don't try to go and recreate any of the traditional cures that I talk about on the blog unless you are quite sure you know what you are doing and take full responsibility for doing so. I just collect them. I don't actually use them. Some herbs previously in common use have been found to have harmful effects. And some of them are quite deadly.

4 Comments:

  1. bluemountainmama said...
    i have heard of snakeroot and its medicinal effects, but would not be able to recognize it myself. i'm afraid i'm no help in this matter......
    Kiva Rose said...
    Well, living in the West I can't really comment too much on your snakeroots... but I can tell you that chewing yarrow leaves and placing the leaves on the bite and then (very important) swallowing the juice left in your mouth will really help cut down on the swelling and pain. This is extra good combined with Plantain.You probably have both the plants right outside your door, yes?

    If you're having a really bad reaction I suggest keeping Osha tincture on hand and putting a drop or two on the sting and take a drop or two under your tongue, words very very well. I also use Creosote bush oil for painful stings and bites with lots of success.
    KMTBERRY said...
    The term "Brings on the Menses" is an old-fashioned term for Abortifacient. APPARTENTLY, in days of yore (really Yore, like before 1900) girls and women attended to things like unwanted pregnancy by herbal means, which was termed "bringing on menstruation".

    Then later after 1900 men took over medicine from the granny women in Oh so many ways, and discredited the Old Ways, and surgical abortion became...well I don't want to say "popular"! But it became the only option.

    Looks like we are headed back in the Other Direction now.

    I think it is interesting that things haven't changed as much as I thought. I was under the mistaken belief that "getting rid" of an unwanted pregnancy was a modern phenomenon, and that in the innocent past every baby was greeted joyfully (or with suicide)
    Audubon Ron said...
    You wouldn’t happen to have few extra Psilocybe acutipilea lay’in around would ya?

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