Unlike other multi-use herbs like Ginger and Aloe, Senna is really only used for one thing, as a laxative. Limited as it may be however, Senna is extremely effective at this particular job and appears in many over-the-counter remedies. Along with Cascara Sagrada, it is many herbologists’ herb of choice for constipation.
Senna was originally cultivated on the banks of the Nile, far South of Cairo, where it is still produced today. Arabian doctors were the first to bring its use to attention. As word of its effectiveness (and value) spread, farmers also began to grow it in both India and England.
Senna is a small shrub found mostly in North Africa. It has small yellow/orange flowers, green leaves and small pods each containing 5-8 seeds. It now grows in temperate regions around the world.
The Senna harvest is an interesting time, when the leaves are stripped off the plant and left to dry out in the sun. They are then transported, often via camel, to the Nile, which provides easy transportation up to Cairo and out into the wider world.
Senna is primarily used to combat constipation. The leaves and pods contain common compounds named "anthraquinones", which interact with bacteria in the digestive tract. This promotes peristalsis, or the regular contractions that aid bowel movements.
Senna is found in many commercial laxative products. If you choose to go a more natural route, either the leaves or the pods are available in dried form. Of the two, the leaves give a slightly milder effect. Taking Senna alone can however cause side effects such as nausea and vomiting.
Senna is also famous, and sometimes controversial, for its use as a diet aid. It appears in the so-called “dieters tea”, a concoction that uses laxatives to increase weight loss. We certainly would not recommend this as a route to a thinner body – using laxatives only reduces weight by eliminating water, not fat.
Regular use of laxatives can lead to dangerously low levels of potassium, sodium and other minerals. There are other more effective herbal remedies, not to mention lifestyle changes, which can do a much better job.
Senna does appear in South East Asian cuisine. The leaves and flowers are used in curries, particularly from Thailand. Similarly to Henna, Senna is also used as a hair dye with a light yellow hue.
Discontinue using Senna if you feel symptoms such as vomiting, abdominal pain or nausea. Do not use is you have any digestive diseases or disorders. Prolonged use of Senna may contribute to the weakening of the colon.
Some of the nausea that is associated with Senna can be alleviated by taking it with cinnamon, cloves, ginger or other aromatic herbs.
Importantly, Senna should not be used by pregnant or nursing women. Always consult your doctor before beginning a course of herbal treatment.