What is Senna Leaf?
Senna Leaf (fan xie ye, 番泻叶), also known as Folium Sennae, is the leaf of Cassia Angustifolia or Cassia Acutifolia, a dwarf shrub belonging to the family Leguminosae. Senna is a shrub found throughout India, Pakistan and China. However, as the yield in China is low, 90% of Senna Leaf used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) comes from India. This plant grows up to a height of approximately two feet, and it has green stems, green pods, and yellow, scoop-shaped leaves.
The active substances in Senna Leaf are called Sennosides, which can be converted by bacteria in the colon into rhein-anthrone, which can stimulate colon activity and increase fluid secretion. Traditionally, Senna Leaf was used as a laxative and was considered to be a “cleansing” herb because of its cathartic properties.
In TCM, Senna Leaf falls under the category of ‘Purgative herbs that drain downwards’. The main purpose of such herbs is to treat constipation by removing Excess Heat in the intestines and the stomach. Cold in nature, the herb can help individuals with too much Heat in their body, such as those experiencing a Yang Excess or a Yin Deficiency, to restore a harmonious yin-yang balance.
Bitter and sweet in taste, Senna Leaf can cleanse the Body by clearing Heat, drying Dampness and promoting elimination via urination and bowel movements. Also, the herb can slow down acute reactions, detoxify the body and has a tonic effect on the body by replenishing qi and blood. In particular, Senna Leaf targets the large intestine.
Functions and Benefits of Senna Leaf
According to TCM, it is believed that Senna Leaf has the following health benefits:
Senna Leaf can relax bowels and induce urination to address constipation and abdominal fullness caused by Heat. The herb is especially useful in treating habitual constipation as its laxative effect can promote bowel movements. Also, TCM has used Senna Leaf to reduce abdominal pain by draining Heat in the large intestine through resolving the accumulation of food. Senna Leaf is known to be detox tea based on its ability to eliminate toxins in the digestive system to improve nutrient absorption and metabolism.
Senna Leaf can also thus relieve symptoms of indigestion, including heartburn, nausea and bloating. By relieving constipation and improving digestive system functions, Senna Leaf can also help your body with weight loss in the long term.
Senna Leaf 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 reduce the chance of bowel cramps caused by Senna Leaf’s powerful properties.
Other than the above Senna Leaf benefits, modern studies have also shown that Senna Leaf contains natural enzymes that help to restore gastric juice secretions in the stomach and the anti-inflammatory compound resveratrol. It has potential to reduce irritability in the intestines by improving overall digestion and soothing inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract.
Rich in essential oils and tannins that help to alleviate skin inflammation, Senna Leaf also has strong antibacterial activity that can treat wounds and burns. The herb also contains compounds that can fight acne-causing microorganisms, reduce sebum production, and increase cell regeneration and collagen production.
How to Use Senna Leaf
Organic Senna Leaf is widely available in health food stores, vitamin shops and herbal stores. The herb is available to consumers in various forms, such as Senna Leaf powder and Senna Leaf extract. Senna Leaf can also be made into a paste to be applied to the skin.
When using Senna Leaf, do consult your healthcare provider on the recommended dosage for your body condition. It is advised to take small doses when you are using it as a laxative, and large doses when used as a purgative. When researchers have studied it for the treatment of general constipation, the usual dose is 15 mg daily.
If you are consuming Senna Leaf Tea, do keep in mind that it usually starts working within six to 12 hours after consumption. As it is often taken before going to bed, you are likely to experience bowel movements in the morning.
Cautions and Side Effects of Senna Leaf
Senna Leaf should not be used by individuals experiencing chronic constipation with weakness, pregnant women, menstruating women or postpartum women.
Individuals with Crohn’s Disease, ulcerative colitis, appendicitis, diarrhoea, dehydration and abdominal pain should not use Senna Leaf too.
If you are experiencing any type of Heart, Liver or Kidney condition, make sure to speak to your healthcare provider before using the herb.
It is not recommended to take Senna Leaf for longer than a week. Using the herb for extended periods of time may lead to dependency. Chronic use of this herb can also cause loss of fluids and low potassium levels, which can lead to dehydration and muscle damage. Also, taking high amounts of Senna Leaf may lead to liver toxicity and result in diarrhoea, bloating or painful abdominal cramping.
Here is a summary for Senna Leaf:
- Herb name (Chinese): 番泻叶
- Herb name (Pin Yin): fān xiè yè
- Herb name (English): Senna Leaf
- Herb name (Botanical): Folium Sennae
- Origin of species: Cassia angustifolia Vahl; Cassia acutifolia Delile
- Part(s) of herb used: Leaf
- Geo-specific habitat(s): Guangdong, Guangxi, Yunnan, India, Egypt, Sudan
- Taste(s) & Properties: Sweet, bitter; Cold; Administrates the Large Intestine Meridian
- Actions: Eases chronic constipation; Relieves symptoms of water retention
Doughari, J. H., El-Mahmood, A. M., & Tyoyina, I. (2008). Antimicrobial activity of leaf extracts of Senna obtusifolia (L). African Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, 2(1), 7-13. [Accessed on 16th November 2022]
Jalwal, P., & Middha, A. (2017). Recent advances on senna as a laxative: a comprehensive review. Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry, 6(2), 349-353.[Accessed on 16th November 2022]
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