Seneca snakeroot (Polygala senega L.) is a member of the milkwort family and a known medicine to the Anishinaabe people. The Ojibwa call Seneca snakeroot bi'jikiwuk'. The name translates, literally, as “ buffalo medicine” but since the coming of white men and their cattle it is now referred to as “cattle herb medicine.”
When made into medicine among the Ojibwa the dried root of this plant is used to treat coughs, colds and asthma. It is also used by some healers in the treatment of diabetes. It can be found growing in moist prairie and at the edges of aspen groves.
After European contact, fur traders and settlers learned about this plant and its qualities from watching the Natives, and many used it to make cough syrup and cough drops. During the fur trade and up to the late 1800s, many of the regional tribes engaged in picking the root as a wage-earning activity. Families would travel to good gathering spots and spend days at a time in the summer to pick the root.
Because of its price per pound, a family could easily supplement their income by picking Seneca root.