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Polygala – sources, health benefits, nutrients, uses and constituents at

Saturday, September 02, 2017 by

Polygala refers to a large genus of flowering plants that bear violet-purple buds. The species that is used for medicinal purposes is the polygara tenuifolia, which is more known as Chinese senega. This is not to be confused with polygara senega (snakeroot) or polygara arillata (milk root). While these two do contain certain nutritional value, it is Chinese senega that proves to have the most potent healing properties. To avoid confusion, we will be referring to polygala by its Chinese pinying name, yuan zhi, in this article.

Traditional healers typically forego the leaves and flowers of yuan zhi and only use the root, which is dried and sometimes ground into a powder. Yuan zhi is an extremely powerful neuroprotective herb; those who take it report feeling invigorated and are better able to focus on memory tasks. The root is assumed to contain compounds that promote brain growth and prevent the onset of certain conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.

List of known compounds

  • Fatty Oil
  • Resins
  • Xanthones

Medicinal uses for polygala

Yuan zhi is referred to in Western medicine as a formidable nootropic, which refers to a set of supplements that increase cognition, focus, and alertness as well as reduce the likelihood of neurodegenerative conditions. Take note though that yuan zhi is only seen to be effective for acute conditions among the elderly — the root is not known to have any effect among healthy adults. Even so, yuan zhi can be taken by older individuals to improve spatial organization and recognition.

Yuan zhi influences the heart, liver, spleen, kidney, and lung meridians. According to Chinese lore, yuan zhi’s “hot” nature prevents chi (energy) from becoming stagnant (as the life force, chi should never be obstructed and allowed to flow naturally). Due to yuan zhi’s warming properties, it is said to be effective against excess phlegm, listlessness, sores, seizures, and emotional disorientation. Depression, a “cold” state, is supposedly treated with regular intake of yuan zhi.

Those more familiar with yuan zhi’s cousins (the milk root and snakeroot, for example) use polygata as an ideal expectorant. Yuan zhi is the most effective in this and can relieve the respiratory tract of such conditions as bronchitis, cold, and asthma.

Because yuan zhi is “hot”, it can also be used to promote perspiration and reduce fever.

Body systems supported by polygala

Yuan zhi helps the brain, although only those more advanced in age. For reasons yet determined, yuan zhi does not have any beneficial effect among healthy adults.

Yuan zhi additionally supports the respiratory tract.

Ways to use polygala

The root is taken as a tea or soup. If you are sourcing yuan zhi from your local drug store, pharmacists typically recommend around three to nine grams per day, depending on the severity of the condition.

Where to learn more


Polygala can refer to different flowering genera, although the one most used for medicinal purposes is the polygala tenuifolia. It is more known as Chinese senega or yuan zhi. The root is normally sold dried and is used as a treatment for forgetfulness.

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