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Snakeroot Flowering

9-17-15 snakeroot  261Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima) is a perennial with clusters of tiny flower heads each containing multiple white flowers at the tip of its stem. Its roots were used to make a poultice to treat snakebites, hence, its common name. Large patches of Snakeroot can be found flowering in Northeast woods at this time of year. Eventually tiny black seeds with white, hairy wisps are dispersed by the wind.

Snakeroot contains a toxin called tremetol that is toxic. An animal may die from eating either a large amount of Snakeroot at one time or small amounts over a long period. When the plant is consumed by cattle, the meat and milk become contaminated with the toxin. If this contaminated meat or milk is consumed, the poison is passed on, and if enough is ingested, it can cause “milk sickness” in humans, a potentially lethal illness. Thousands of mid-West settlers in the early 1800’s died from this disease (possibly including Abraham Lincoln’s mother) as they were unfamiliar with the plant and its effect on their cattle. Snakeroot is also poisonous to horses, goats and sheep. Today small amounts are used by herbalists to treat a variety of ailments, from high blood pressure to insomnia. (Thanks to Jeannie Killam for photo op.)

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5 responses

  1. Karen Johnson

    is it related to nettle??? I love your daily posts

    Karen Johnson Early Childhood Special Educator, M.ED

    please note new office: OWSU/EEE Chelsea Public School 6 School St. Chelsea, Vt 05038 p 802-685-4551 x 158


    September 16, 2015 at 6:38 am

    • Hi Karen,
      How observant of you — the leaves of snakeroot are very similar to those of nettle, and snakeroot is often mistaken for nettle, but they are in different families.

      September 16, 2015 at 8:27 am

  2. This is a fascinating bit of history. I’m amazed that it’s not more widely known. Thanks so much for sharing!

    September 16, 2015 at 10:02 am

  3. Viola

    Oh, valuable information that I was unaware of. I’ve always liked this plant because of its beauty, because it’s a late bloomer, and because I believe it is uncommon in our area. I did not realize it had such negative characteristics; livestock should be kept away from it!

    September 16, 2015 at 12:51 pm

  4. Wow, good to know. We have a fair amount of it around here.

    September 18, 2015 at 1:04 pm

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