The most famous use of this herb is as a laxative and a purgative. It is now known that the laxative effects of Senna are due to anthraquinone glycosides known as sennosides. These compounds stimulate intestinal contractions that lead to the rapid expulsion of waste matter.
Senna may also be able to soften the stool by assisting the large intestine to absorb more water and adding bulk to faeces. This allows for bowel movements that are quick and smooth as waste passes through the large intestine.
Senna is often used to clear the bowel before diagnostic tests such as colonoscopies. Cleansing the colon is believed to improve nutrient uptake and support overall colon health.
Senna also works as an effective vermifuge to destroy parasites and expel worms from the intestinal tract. It works best when combined with other anthelmintic herbs (used in the treatment of roundworm), such as ginger or fennel. These herbs increase regularity and reduce the chance of bowel cramps due to Senna’s strong action.
In the case of indigestion, Senna contains natural enzymes that help to restore gastric juice secretions in the stomach. Senna, if used in the proper dosage for certain periods of time, has shown potential in reducing irritability in the intestines by improving overall digestion.
Senna also contains the anti-inflammatory compound resveratrol which can help to soothe inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract.
Senna leaves contain essential oils and tannins that help to alleviate skin inflammation. With a strong antibacterial activity, they can be made into a compress which can be applied to wounds and burns.
Acetone and ethanol - other compounds present in Senna - can fight the microorganisms that cause acne. Senna also helps to reduce sebum production and increase cell regeneration and collagen production.
Folklore and history
According to the “Magic and Medicine of Plants“, in the 9th century CE, Caliph Harun al-Rashid sent for a famous Christian Arab physician, known to history as Mesue the Elder. Mesue brought Senna leaves, which are native to North and East Africa, and effectively cure the Caliph's constipation! After Mesue the Elder’s visit, Senna was widely used in Baghdad as a laxative.
Native Americans also recognised Senna’s laxative power, but instead used it to treat fevers.
Senna has been used as a traditional medicine by ancient cultures all over the world for millennia. Senna is an Arabian name and 9th century writings describe how it was used extensively by Arabian physicians. According to a rare Egyptian medical papyrus, dating to the 16th century BCE, Senna was prescribed by the physicians for their distinguished patients.
In North America, native tribes used the seeds (pods) 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.
Senna Leaf/Pod Tea: Pour hot (not boiling) water over ½ to 2 grams (one-quarter teaspoon) of crushed Senna herb. Allow the tea to steep for 10 minutes and then strain.
Senna Leaf/Pod Tincture: Traditionally Taken: 2-3ml taken 2-3 times per day, or as directed by a Herbal Practitioner.
Senna should be used as a short term remedy. It should not be used long term as it can cause laxative dependence.
Senna contains anthraquinones, including dianthrone glycosides (1.5% to 3%), sennosides A and B (rhein dianthrones), and sennosides C and D (rhein aloe-emodin heterodianthrones). Numerous minor sennosides have been identified, and all appear to contribute to the laxative effect. The plant also contains free anthroquinones in small amounts including; rhein, aloe-emodin, chrysophanol, and their glycosides. Flavonols present include isorhamnetin and kaempferol. Glycosides 6-hydroxymusizin and tinnevellin are also found. Other constituents in senna include chrysophanic acid, salicylic acid, saponin, resin, mannitol, sodium potassium tartrate, and trace amounts of volatile oil.
Long-term Senna usage may cause laxative dependence and liver damage.You should consult your healthcare professional before taking senna if you have: colon disorders,heart disease or liver disease.
Senna may interact with medications such blood thinners and diuretics. Patients with Crohn’s disease, intestinal obstructions and abdominal pain should not take Senna. In addition, it may react adversely heart medications.