Herbs for Labor IV: Ragwort

Green blessings! Plant medicines are everywhere and are instrumental during pregnancy, labor and the postpartum. In this edition of the series called “Herbs for Labor” renowned herbalist Susun Weed describes the uses and benefits of ragwort, also known as life root, throughout a woman’s cycle and during pregnancy. Herbal medicine is a welcome addition to any midwife’s birth bag, and an important part of holistic midwifery.

Green blessings. Welcome to the web, the web that Grandmother Spider spins. This web weaves us together, with each other, with the plants and the seasons, with the winds and the waters, the earth, the moon and the sun. Herbal medicine is people’s medicine, the medicine of wholeness and a wonderful ally for pregnant and birthing women.

Shall we continue our ongoing exploration of herbs useful during labor? When last we were together, we shared a cup of mint tea and talked about some of my favorite mints for laboring women: catnip, skullcap and motherwort. Previous to that, we got down with the cohoshes and learned just how different those two girls are.

Today I want to regale you with stories about a plant that I love and that I believe belongs in every midwife’s bag, but one you may never have heard of, I call her life root, as did the Native people of this land.

The first time I met life root, I was teaching an Herbs for Women class. We gathered at a local woman’s home in Woodstock and were well into our women-only time together when the door was flung open and a man I didn’t know walked in. In his hand was a bunch of plants with yellow flowers, rather like small daisies or very tall dandelions, which he dashed to the ground in the middle of our circle.

“That’s ragwort . . . .for when you’re on the rag,” he said with a leering grin as he walked out, slamming the door behind him. I threw the flowers at his retreating back and continued on with the class, disregarding the limp plants by the door.

Some years later, after a bad experience with dong quai that had me on the lookout for weeds that women could rely on, I saw a yellow-flowered plant in a roadside ditch. My field guide said it was ragwort, golden ragwort, to be specific, Senecio aureus.

Ragwort should be confused with the allergy-provoking ragweed (Ambrosia artemisifolia), which has many sisters, all of whom are known poison-ers and are often loathed by ranchers for the damage they due to pregnant animals. I didn’t dare use the root of this perennial plant, for fear of it in fact being ragweed or it being too strong , so I decided to make a tincture of the fresh flowers, available only during a brief blooming period, toward the end of May.

Enter Teresa, who laid low with severe (hide-in-the-dark-no-pain-killer-works-throw-up-moan) monthly menstrual pain for years. Despite the possibility of poisoning herself if it were not in fact ragwort, she gladly agreed to take my life root flower tincture. She took 5 drops a day from mid-cycle (ovulation) to the first day of her menses. For the first two months, she complained of increased pain at menses, but agreed, after consideration, that the pain was not so much worse as different. (A frequent side-effect of this remedy is that it seems to move the pain to different places before removing it.) After three months, she said she felt better. After four months, she proclaimed it a miracle. For years thereafter, she would come to the Wise Woman Center every May to harvest her year’s supply, until I at last convinced her that she was cured and didn’t need life root anymore.

And then there was Karin, a midwife who grew to love life root during her apprenticeship with me. She uses a full dropperful of life root tincture every 5-10 minutes to speed up labor and hasten cervical dilation. It really was life root to women hundreds of years ago when there were no hospitals.

Pamela came to apprentice with her young daughter and told an amazing story. Birth, abortion, birth, tubal ligation and emotional betrayal left her asexual and with menses that “destroyed a quarter to a third of my life.” After she was introduced to life root – by way of the intense rosy smell of its lower/basal leaves – in the beginning of April, she chose it for her ally. Pam spent a lot of time in the Senecio swamp donating blood to the mosquito fairies, breathing with the plants and waiting. At last it bloomed! Yellow flowers held aloft. She tinctured the flowers that waved to her. Six weeks later she started taking her own life root tincture, 5 drops a day, every day of the luteal phase. Not only did her menstrual pain almost completely subside during the course of her five-month residence, she had two lovers in town!

Life root is a common plant; perhaps it grows around you. Keep a eye peeled for its beautiful yellow flowers this May and you may be rewarded with a new friend and ally. Green blessings are everywhere.

Susun Weed has appeared on numerous national radio, television, and new-media venues, including National Public Radio, NBC News, CNN, and ABCNews.com. She has been quoted and interviewed in many major magazines, including Natural Health, Woman’s Day, First for Women, and Herbs for Health. She is a contributor to the Routledge International Encyclopedia of Women’s Studies, and writes a regular column in Sagewoman and for Awakened Woman online. Visit her at www.susunweed.com or buy her books Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year (Weed) and Herbal Healing for Women (Gladstar) at www.wisewomanbookshop.com.


Life root – also known as ragwort, groundsel, squaw weed, or cocash root –  is rarely mentioned in herbals. Even Aviva Romm’s 700-page, comprehensive Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health mentions it only once, in a historical perspective box by David Winston, as a remedy for amenorrhea due to “poor uterine tonus or subtle hormonal irrelugarities.”

Find out more about Senecio aureus in these four books.

  • The Herb Book, John Lust, Beneficial Books, copyright renewed 2005, currently out of print, pages 327-328. “American Indians used it to speed childbirth and also to induce abortion.”
  • New Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way, Susun Weed, Ash Tree Publishing, 2002, pages 155-156. “Eases emotional upsets.”
  • Guide to Medicinal Plants, Paul Schauenberg and FerdinandParis, Keats, 1977, pages 51-52. “Homeopathic tincture is used to treat bladder infections.”
  • Indian Herbology of North America, Alma Hutchens, Merco, 1969, pages 179-181. “A completely safe aid in gynaecological disorders [which she lists]. . . . It strengthens flabby uterine ligaments. . . . “

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