Senna Summary:

Due to a large number of closely related species, and wide distribution range, there are many different common names for senna. There has not been a lot of scientific research done on this plant. Most of the current research is focused on the sennosides contained within the leaves and pods. These chemicals have a strong laxative action, which backs up its traditional usage for constipation and lower digestive tract disorders. 

In higher doses, senna is a purgative, which was a commonly held action in traditional medical practices. This is not a commonly used action in modern times though as there are usually better, more comfortable options available, 

Senna can be found easily in various countries. The species may vary slightly, but are used similarly the world over, suggesting the chemical makeup remains mostly the same. 

Botanical Name

Senna alexandria

Senna folium

Cassia angustifolia

Cassia acutifolia



Formerly: Fabaceae

Part Used

Leaves or pods (usually dried)

Herbal Actions:

  • Laxitive
  • Purgative (Cathartic) [4, 5]
  • Antibiotic
  • Styptic (topically)


Dried Pods

3-6 [pods is a normal dose.

Can use up to 12 pods for a strong dose.

Steep the pods in 150 mL water for 6-12 hours.

Dried Leaf

0.5-2g macerated in cold water

Liquid Extract (1:1)


0.5-2 mL/day


[7, 8]

  • Constipation
  • Acute pancreatitis
  • Cholecystitis
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding

Common Names:

  • Alexandrian senna
  • Nubian senna
  • Cassia senna
  • Egyptian senna
  • Sene de la palthe
  • Kartoum senna
  • Tinnevelly senna
  • Indian senna

Traditional Uses:

Senna is indigenous to many different countries, and for the most part each individual countries native species have all been used for much the same purposes [4]. Most of sennas traditional usage involves its laxative action, as described in various ways. In traditional Chinese medicine, it is described as downward draining, and purges heat [7]. 

Senna is also a valuable medicinal plant for constipation in the Ayurvedic traditional medical system [11]. 

Ellingwood suggested senna for the treatment of temporary constipation [5]. 

+ Western Herbal Medicine

+ Traditional Chinese Medicine

(Leaves used)

Pinyin: Fan Xie Ye

Taste: Sweet and bitter [2, 3, 7]

Energy: Cold [2, 3, 7]

Channel: Large intestine [3, 7]

Actions: Purging (aggressive), drains heat, removes stagnation, promotes defection and urination, relaxes the bowels. This herb drains downwards. [2, 3, 7].

Indications: Heat accumulation and binding, constipation with abdominal pain, edema, fullness, distention [2, 7].


  1. To break up stagnation: Zhi shi + huo po [7].
  2. Constipation due to hat accumulationin the intestines: huo xiang + mu xiang [7].

    Botanical Description:

    Senna includes over 250 different species, and can be found in both shrub, and tree form [10].

    Habitat Ecology, and Distribution:

    Very large distribution. 

    Harvesting Collection, and Preparation:

    Senna comes in a variety of species, but all are used for the same general purposes. The preferred species for medicinal benefit however, is Cassia acutifolia [4]. The leaves and pods are commonly used with all of these species. the leaves are more powerful, however the pods are much less griping. The griping action is suggested to be mainly caused by the resin content of the leaves. [4]. 

    Alcohol and water combination are best used to extract the medicinal constituents of both senna pods and leaves rather than just one or the other [4]. 


    [1, 4, 5, 6, 7]

    Constituents (In the Leaf)

    Chemical class Chemical Name % Dried Weight Solubility
    Anthraquinone glycosides Sennoside A, B, C, D Unknown N/A
    Flavonoids Isorhamnetin, Kaempferol Unknown N/A
    Resins --- Unknown N/A
    Mucilage N/A Unknown N/A
    Naptheline glycosides 6-hydroxymusizin glycoside, Tinnevellin glycoside Unknown N/A
    Volatile oil N/A Unknown N/A

    Constituents (Pods)

    Chemical class Chemical Name % Dried Weight Solubility
    Anthraquinone glycosides Sennoside A, A1, B Unknown N/A
    Flavonoids --- Unknown N/A
    Mucilage --- Unknown N/A
    Naptheline glycosides Tinevellin glycoside, 6-ydroxymusizin glycoside Unknown N/A
    Volatile oil --- Unknown N/A

    Pharmacology and Medical Research:

    + Purgative (Cathartic)

    The purgative action of senna is reported to act mainly on the lower bowel, through an increase in bulking and increasing peristalsis [4, 5, 7].

    The majority of sennas laxative actions are from its sennoside content. It works through a release of endogenous substances in the colon, such as autacoids, and nitric oxide. Sennosides also alter the absorption and secretion of water and electrolytes into the lumen of the colon. [8, 9].



    Contraindicated with the following conditions:

    • Intestinal obstruction
    • Abdominal pain of unknown origin
    • Inflammatory bowel disease
    • Stomach inflammation due to griping
    • Appendicitis
    • Colitis
    • Irritable bowel syndrome
    • Ulcerative colitis
    • Crohns disease
    • Pregnancy and lactation
    • Haemorrhoids
    • Prolapsus
    • Chronic constipation (because it can lead to dependency issues) [5]. 


    • Do not take for longer than 10 days at a time
    • Overuse can lead to potassium loss which can then lead to increased toxicity of cardiac glycosides [5]. 
    • Due to the increased transit time, senna may reduce the absorption of other drugs or nutrients. 
    • High doses can cause nausea and vomiting, as well as severe colic pain.
    • May turn urine red [7].
    • Long term usage may lead to pigmentation of the intestinal mucosa [7].  


    • With carminatives in order to combat the negative side effect of griping pain and nausea. Some good herbs to combine for this are ginger, cloves, cinnamon or other aromatics. 


    Justin Cooke

    The Sunlight Experiment

    Updated: July 2017

    Recent Blog Posts:


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    10. Marazzi, B.; et al. (2006). Phylogenetic relationships within Senna(Leguminosae, Cassiinae) based on three chloroplast DNA regions: patterns in the evolution of floral symmetry and extrafloral nectaries. American Journal of Botany.93 (2): 288–303. doi:10.3732/ajb.93.2.288
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