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

Thank you for your prompt reply to my previous question about senna ("Senna for Regularity").

I should have specified which senna I had purchased from you – Bladder Senna, Cytisus scoparius.

We need to be clear about the plant in question. Bladder senna is known botanically as "Colutea arborscens" while Cytisus scoparius is commonly known as "Scotch broom". While both belong to the same family (the Leguminoseae, also known as the Fabaceae), and while both act on the bowels, they are used very differently for different purposes.

Scotch broom tops can be cathartic (laxative) in large doses, doses that may also provoke vomiting. It is used mainly as a diuretic, particularly in cases involving dropsy caused by cardiac problems. It is also used to treat kidney and bladder problems.

Bladder senna, on the other hand, is a milder version of senna. According to Margaret Grieve in her book, "A Modern Herbal" (Available from Richters), "The leaflets are purgative and on the Continent [Europe] are often substituted for Senna leaves, but they are much milder in action than the true Senna."

You are probably correct in assuming that I used "laxative" when I should have used "Purgative".

Your packaging instructions implied that I should winter "tender perennials" indoors hence I decided to keep some plants inside.

Bladder senna is native to the southern Europe along the Mediterranean. It is hardy as far north as Britain. It is rated hardy to zones 6 to 9, so it is a border line "perennial" or "tender perennial" in our zone 5 in Goodwood.

If you are in zone 6 to 9, you are advised to leave it out over winter because it will grow much larger and better than it would otherwise indoors.

I am only interested in the occasional use of senna as a laxative, not as a purgative which as your say would produce bowel cramps etc. Please let me know whether I would be able to "reap" pods for use from the plants I have and if so, how long should I be prepared to wait? Also, you did not give me any suggestions on how I should prepare the "drink". I do not remember anything else being used with the pods and I do not remember getting bowel cramps so perhaps only the pods were used.

According to Grieve, a tea made with the bladder senna seeds can induce vomiting. Whether the pods would do the same, we do not know.

We would advise sticking with bladder senna leaflets only, and only under the supervision of a health care provider. Grieve does not give a recipe for the tea, but we would think that a teaspoonful of the dried leaflets per cup of water, or twice as much of the fresh material per cup would be about right. To prepare the infusion, simply pour boiling water over the herb and allow to steep for 5-10 minutes.

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