- Family Fabaceae/Leguminosae
- Cassia species
- Cassia senna syn. Senna alexandrina
- Cassia marilandica
- Cassia alata
- Cassia fistula
- Cassia angustifolia
- Cassia obtusifolia
- Alexandrian Senna, Tinnevelly Senna, India/Indian Senna, Khartoum Senna, Shower Tree, Monkey Pod Tree, Ringworm Cassia, Purging Cassia, Candle Tree
- Spanish: Hojasen, Ca afistula, Sen, Hojasen, Té de Sena, Retama, Guajava, Casse, Cassia, Chacara
- Nahuatl: Ecaptli, Xiuhecapatli
Do not give to children under two, and those from two to twelve should follow proper dosage recommendations.
Do not take for more than ten days at a time. Prolonged use leads to weakening of the large bowel muscles and such other conditions as cardiac arrhythmias, electrolyte imbalances, finger clubbing, and accelerated bone deterioration.
Do not take during pregnancy.
Do not use if intestinal obstructions, acute intestinal inflammations, or appendicitis is suspected.
It should not be taken if there are such problems as ulcers, diverticulitis, colitis, or other intestinal disorders.
A moderate overdose can cause severe cramping and diarrhea, resulting in possible dehydration and excessive loss of potassium and other electrolytes.
There are over 400 species of Cassia. Most are indigenous to North, Central, and South America, and Africa; but it is now found in tropical and subtropical regions of all continents, except Europe. Some are native to South Asia, particularly India and Ceylon, and now widely cultivated in the tropics, as well as being an ornamental tree in southern Florida, the West Indies, and Central and South America. Senna is grown from seed and requires plenty of sun.
The plant is a small perennial shrub, growing from three to twelve feet with a straight, woody stem and clusters of flowers that resemble candles, eventually turning into seed pods. The flowers are usually yellow, but can be white or pink. The cylindrical seed pods have a woody brown shell up to twenty-four inches long. The spaces between the seeds within the pods are filled with a sweet pulp. The leaves are picked before, or during flowering, while the pods are picked when ripe in the fall. The leaves have a stronger action than the pods but are not commonly used.
All ancient cultures, including the Aztecs, Asians, and Africans have used infusions of the Cassia species as a laxative. It is still an ingredient in several over-the-counter laxatives.
The first records show the herb being used medicinally by Arabian physicians in the 9th century CE, and has always been used for constipation.
The Mesquakies ate the seeds, softened by soaking, as a mucilaginous medicine for sore throat. The Cherokees used the bruised root, moistened with water, for dressing sores. They also used it in a tea to cure fevers with black spots and paralysis as symptoms.
Its name of Ringworm Cassia was given because a leaf extract is used to combat that fungal infection, especially in Malaysia.
Senna was given the name of Purging Cassia in Europe during the Middle Ages because it was used at that time in an Italian medical school as a purgative.
- anthraquinone glycosides (sennosides)
- naphthalene glycosides
- volatile oil
The sennosides have been extensively researched over the last fifty years, which has led to a clear understanding of its action. These components irritate the lining of the large intestine, causing the muscles to contract strongly, resulting in a bowel movement about ten hours after the dose is taken. They also stop fluid from being absorbed by the large bowel helping to keep the stool soft, which is particularly helpful if there are fissures present. The use of senna is considered a last resort used infrequently and only after diet changes, increased fluid and fiber, and gentler laxatives have been tried. Long term use can result in the body depending on it and not being able to move naturally without it.
Three anthraquinone glycerides in the seeds of C. obtusifolia were found to be effective in blood platelet aggregation.
In a 1998 study in India, the focus was on the plant’s ability to protect the liver. Test animals who received the extract, showed less damage to the organ than those who did not receive it. Its effect was similar to those commercially prepared products prescribed for liver problems.
- The pods are milder in effect than the leaves and are commonly made into tablets and other preparations.
- Tablets are the most commonly taken for constipation.
- A decoction is made by steeping senna and ginger and used for constipation.
- An infusion is combined with fresh ginger and cloves and used for mild constipation.
- Tinctures are used by herbalists for short-term constipation.
In Ayurvedic medicine, senna is used, not only for constipation, but also for skin problems, jaundice, bronchitis, liver disease, splenomegaly, typhoid fever, and anemia.
In Chinese medicine, Jue ming zi (C. obtusifolia) is used for “liver fire” patterns, atherosclerosis, and for constipation.
As a cathartic (a very strong laxative), senna can cause griping and colic. It is, therefore, taken with such aromatic, carminative herbs, as ginger and cloves, that relax the intestinal muscles.
In Latin America, the pulpy seed partitions have been eaten as a laxative or steeped in water for the same use. A syrup made with the flowers has also been used as a laxative.
In a 1987 Guatemalan study, it was found to have pronounced diuretic effects in test animals. In Guatemala, Mexico, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic, the juice is one of several remedies used for urinary ailments.
In Guatemala, Suriname, and Mexico, it is used to relieve constipation. The leaves are also used to treat ulcers and other skin diseases.
In South American traditional medicine, it is used as an abortifacient or to stimulant menstruation.