SENNA AND INDIAN SENNA - HOW TO USE SAFELY
There are many different species of senna, which has been used for centuries as a purgative, but the best are Egyptian or Alexandrian senna Cassia augustifolia which comes for Sudan and Egypt and the variety which grows in the Indian subcontinent, Cassia acutifolia, also called Tinnevelly senna.
It was first described in the 9th century by Arab physicians, and the name, senna has Arabic roots. It is believed that the first Greek to notice the uses of this herb was Achicinus, and it must have been he who popularized its use for constipation in the West. In its action it is rather like the castor bean but more effective and less potent than jamalgota.
The leaves are the most potent part of the plant, although they can cause stomach cramps, so the pods are preferred for use as they do not. They taste slightly less noxious than the leaves too which can make one nauseous. Basically senna should be taken with aromatic spices or herbs to disguise its taste whether the leaves or pods are used. Ginger, chamomile, cardamom seeds, coriander seeds, cinnamon or cassia bark, cloves, peppermint or anise can be mixed with it and a little honey or sugar if desired. 1-2 tsps of the leaves can be put in a cup along with any of the above and 1 cup of boiling water should be poured over it and then left to steep for 10 minutes, before straining. Only 1 cup should be taken per day, so it’s best not to drink it all at once. Pregnant and lactating women should not take senna.
Senna pods act on the whole intestine, while the leaves stimulate the colon. The WHO (World Health Organization) has approved senna’s use as a short term treatment for constipation, but the treatment should be discontinued after 1-2 weeks.
Senna is a member of the Leguminaceae family as are the green bean, Astragalus species or the carob tree, and one of the Caesalpiniaceae species, whose leaves and pods are prescribed for sufferers of piles, anal fissures and for those awaiting surgery on the abdomen, rectum or anus. It is also used to clean the bowel before some ultrasound procedures to improve visibility in the bowel. The anthraquinone glycosides stimulate the colon and work in 3 to 9 hours, softening stools and so alleviating constipation. The leaves can cause cramping so many people prefer to use the pods for treatment.