Herbs & Plants

Senecio jacobaea

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Botanical Name : Senecio jacobaea
Family :Asteraceae – Aster family
Genus :Senecio L. – ragwort
Species:Senecio jacobaea L. – stinking willie
Kingdom:Plantae – Plants
Subkingdom: Tracheobionta – Vascular plants
Superdivision: Spermatophyta – Seed plants
Division :Magnoliophyta – Flowering plants
Class : Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledons
Subclass: Asteridae
Order : Asterales

Synonyms :  Jacobaea vulgaris

Common Names: Ragwort,   Stinking willie

Habitat :Senecio jacobaea is native to  Europe, including Britain, south and east from Scandanavia to N. Africa, Caucasua and W. Asia. It grows on the waste ground and pastures on all but the poorest soils. It is often only an annual.

The plant is biennial or perennial. The stems are erect, straight, have no or few hairs, and reach a height of 0.3-2.0 metres. The leaves are pinnately lobed and the end lobe is blunt. The many names that include the word “stinking” (and Mare’s Fart) arise because of the unpleasant smell of the leaves. The hermaphrodite flower heads are 1.5-2.5 cm diameter, and are borne in dense, flat-topped clusters; the florets are bright yellow. It has a long flowering period lasting from June to November (In the northern Hemisphere).

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Pollination is by a wide range of bees, flies and moths and butterflies. Over a season, one plant may produce 2,000 to 2,500 yellow flowers in 20- to 60-headed, flat-topped corymbs. This number of seeds produced may be as large as 75,000 to 120,000, although in its native range in Eurasia very few of these would grow into new plants and research has shown that most seeds do not travel a great distance from the parent plant.

Succeeding on all but the poorest soils, this plant is a declared noxious weed in Britain spreading freely by seed. It should not be cultivated other than in controlled conditions for scientific research. Ragwort can be eradicated by pulling it up just before it comes into flower, or by cutting it down as the flowers begin to open (this latter may need to be repeated about six weeks later). Ragwort is a good food plant for the caterpillars of many butterfly and moth species, and is one of only two species that provide food for cinnabar moth caterpillars.

A noxious weed, it doesn’t need any help in spreading itself about.

Medicinal Uses:

The plant is astringent, diaphoretic, diuretic, emmenagogue and expectorant. The plant is harvested as it comes into flower and is dried for later use. Use with caution, when applied internally it can cause severe damage to the liver. See also the notes above on toxicity. An emollient poultice is made from the leaves. The juice of the plant is cooling and astringent, it is used as a wash in burns, sores, cancerous ulcers and eye inflammations. It makes a good gargle for ulcerated mouths and throats and is also said to take away the pain of a bee sting. Caution is advised here since the plant is poisonous and some people develop a rash from merely touching this plant. A decoction of the root is said to be good for treating internal bruises and wounds. A homeopathic remedy is made from the plant. It is used in the treatment of dysmenorrhoea and other female complaints, internal haemorrhages and other internal disorders.
From medieval times to the mid 20th century, Ragwort was used against inflammations of the eye, for sore and cancerous ulcers, rheumatism, sciatica and gout, for painful joints.

According to some, it would relieve the pain of bee stings.

Any applications are external only, never taken internally, and only under professional supervision.

With the large range of pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which are known to inhibit or reduce cell division, some researchers hope to use them to slow down or arrest the growth of cells in cancer.[who?]
In ancient Greece and Rome a supposed aphrodisiac was made from the plant; it was called satyrion.

Also, the leaves can be used to obtain good green dye, as yellow dye is obtained from the flowers, as can be done for brown and orange.

Ragwort is excellent when taken as an infusion for gouty conditions and rheumatic pains.  It usually gives great relief quickly.  Also very good for lung and bronchial infections.  Ragwort provides a stimulating and warming liniment preparation used externally on rheumatic muscles.  An emollient poultice is made from the leaves.  The juice of the plant is cooling and astringent, it is used as a wash in burns, sores, cancerous ulcers and eye inflammations. It makes a good gargle for ulcerated mouths and throats and is also said to take away the pain of a bee sting. Caution is advised here since the plant is poisonous and some people develop a rash from merely touching this plant.  A decoction of the root is said to be good for treating internal bruises and wounds.

Other usage : Dye.

A good green dye is obtained from the leaves, though it is not very permanent. A yellow dye is obtained from the flowers when alum is used as a mordant. Brown and orange can also be obtained.


Known Hazards:

Poisonous effects:
Ragwort contains many different alkaloids, making it poisonous to animals. (EHC 80,section 9.1.4). Alkaloids which have been found in the plant confirmed by the WHO report EHC 80 are — jacobine, jaconine, jacozine, otosenine, retrorsine, seneciphylline, senecionine, and senkirkine . Other alkaloids claimed to be present but from an undeclared source are acetylerucifoline, (Z)-erucifoline, (E)-erucifoline, 21-hydroxyintegerrimine, integerrimine, jacoline, riddelline, senecivernine, spartioidine, and usaramine.

Ragwort is of concern to people who keep horses and cattle. In areas of the world where ragwort is a native plant, such as Britain and continental Europe, documented cases of proven poisoning are rare. Horses do not normally eat fresh ragwort due to its bitter taste. It loses this taste when dried and can become a danger in hay. The result, if sufficient quantity is consumed, can be irreversible cirrhosis of the liver. Signs that a horse has been poisoned include yellow mucus membranes, depression, and lack of coordination. Animals may also resort to the consumption of ragwort when there is shortage of food. In rare cases they can even become addicted to it. Sheep, in marked contrast, eat small quantities of the plant with relish. Sheep and goats suffer the same process of liver destruction but at a reduced rate to horses and pigs. They seem to profit slightly from eating it; according to some reports[who?], the alkaloids kill worms in the sheep’s stomach.

The danger of Ragwort is that the toxin can have a cumulative effect. The alkaloid does not actually accumulate in the liver but a breakdown product can damage DNA and progressively kills cells. About 3-7% of the body weight is sometimes claimed as deadly for horses, but an example in the scientific literature exists of a horse surviving being fed over 20% of its body weight. The effect of low doses is lessened by the destruction of the original alkaloids by the action of bacteria in the digestive tract before they reach the bloodstream. There is no known antidote or cure to poisoning, but examples are known from the scientific literature of horses making a full recovery once consumption has been stopped.

Ragwort poses little risk to the livers of humans since, although it is theoretically poisonous to humans, it is distasteful and is not used as a food. The alkaloids can be absorbed in small quantities through the skin but studies have shown that the absorption is very much less than by ingestion. Also they are in the N-oxide form which only becomes toxic after conversion inside the digestive tract and they will be excreted harmlessly.

Some sensitive individuals can suffer from an allergic reaction because ragwort like many members of the compositae family contains sesquiterpine lactones which can cause compositae dermatitis. These are different from the pyrrolizidine alkaloids which are responsible for the toxic effects.

Honey collected over Ragwort has been found to contain small quantities of jacoline, jacobine, jacozine, senecionine, and seneciphylline, but the quantities have been judged as too minute to be of concern.

The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.


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