Senna for Regularity
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Arlene Ramasra
Posted on: September 10, 1998

I recently bought from you a packet of senna seeds and I have been successfull in getting four plants out of the seeds I had sown. These are now about 2 inches tall and I intend to leave one outside in the garden during the winter and overwinter the rest indoors. I intend to use the plants for "medicinal purposes"; i.e. not as a laxative as such but to encourage regularity. I remember as a child being given a brew to drink but I was too young to remember how exactly this was prepared. I would appreciate your input on when, and what I should reap from my plants. (I remember the leaves being used but this was as a laxative. The pods were also used and produced less severe results). Please offer suggestions on how I should prepare the "drink".

First, it is important to know that there are several varieties of senna used medicinally. We carry the American senna, Cassia marilandica, which is an perennial herb growing in the eastern United States. It may reach a height of 1-1/2 to 2 metres (4 to 6 feet).

The leaves of this species are typically used. According to John Lust, in his book, "The Herb Book," American senna leaves are an excellent laxative, but usually with other herbs to avoid griping of the bowels.

You use the word "laxative" I think when you really mean "purgative". A purgative promotes a vigourous emptying of the bowels while a laxative has a gentler emptying action. A laxative can be used to used to promote regularity while a purgative is used to unblock bowels in extreme cases.

According to Lust, both the leaves and pods of the Alexandrian senna, Cassia acutifolia, are used. The leaves are a potent cathartic, while the pods are milder. The Tinnevelly senna, Cassia angustifolia, is also used; the leaves are milder than the Alexandrian senna. The pods of the purging senna or cassia, Cassia fistula, are also used in commercial medicines.

Lust gives recipes for making two laxative teas with American senna. The first has hedge hyssop, yarrow, caraway and senna leaves, and the other has alder buckthorn, pansy, yarrow and senna leaves.

Senna should not be used when hemorrhoids are present or when the digestive system is inflamed. Any laxative should not be used over a long period of time. If regularity is not improved within a week or two of use, the laxative should be stopped. As always, consult your health care provider for advice on using herbs for any medical condition.

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