What is Senna?
Although this article will focus on the leaves and herb, senna actually refers to a large genus of plants belonging to the legume family (Fabaceae). Senna which is derived from the Arabic – sanā is native to much if the tropics with a few species also found in temperate areas.
The fruit is more gentle acting than senna leaves and the AHPA has warned against using the leaves long term but no such warnings exist for the fruit.
Senna is best known for its laxative effects because it contains compounds called sennosides. These compounds irritate the bowel lining which gives the herb its laxative abilities.
Senna is also known by a number of common names including Alexandria senna, Cassia senna, Cassia angustifolia and Casse.
Health Benefits of Senna
Nearly all parts of the senna plant contain medicinal value. The plant has been used by traditional practitioners in India for many centuries. In China, the leaves have long been used for their laxative effects but there are some safety concerns regarding use of the leaves.
Senna can be found online and in certain health stores in various forms. It is available in liquid extract. capsule and tablet form and is also used to make a herbal tea. You can find senna tea in loose form or in ready made teabags. The tea is perfectly palatable but not especially pleasant to taste. Many people combine it with green tea or add honey to make it more pleasant to drink.
The leaves are considered to be the most potent part of the plant with the best laxative properties. The pods and fruit also contain laxative effects but are more gentle acting and there is less risk of side effect.
1) For Constipation
The most common use of senna herb whether in supplement or tea form is to relieve constipation. It has excellent, natural laxative effects and has been approved in the US by the FDA as a natural remedy for constipation.
Senna can help stimulate the colon’s muscles which helps push fecal matter through the colon more quickly and effectively. The herb can also stimulate the contractions in the intestinal walls that aid bowel movements. It also helps to soften the stools and is known to be a good remedy even for more severe constipation. Senna is extremely effective as a natural laxative and can encourage bowel movement fairly quickly after taking it – usually within six to ten hours.
According to studies, senna can be combined with docusate sodium or psyllium to make an efective and natural constipation remedy. One study found that senna combined with psyllium was especially useful as a remedy for constipation in elderly people with ongoing constipation. (1)
2) To Cleanse the Colon
Because of its laxative properties, senna is also marketed as a cleansing herb. The leaves are used by Chinese practitioners to clear waste and heat that has accumulated in the intestines. It can help to expel any particles and stagnant food from the stomach and is sometimes used to cleanse a patient’s colon prior to surgery or colonoscopy procedures..
3) For Hemorrhoids
For anybody that suffers from uncomfortable, painful and often embarrassing bouts of hemorrhoids, senna may provide you with some natural relief. It works because it can help reduce the swelling and irritation caused by hemorrhoids and it also promotes efficient healing.
Because senna helps to soften the stool, it can also make bowel movements much more comfortable and prevent anal fissures from getting any worse.
4) Weight Loss
Because of its laxative effects, senna is sometimes marketed as a weight loss herb. The leaf is especially potent and as we have already discussed, it can relieve constipation and aid more regular bowel movements. Drinking plenty of senna tea can also help hydrate the body without adding many calories and might help satiate your appetite for longer. It may also help eliminate toxins and food particles from the intestines helping improve nutrient absorption and optimal metabolism.
However, despite being marketed for its weight loss benefits, it is not recommended that you use senna for this purpose alone. If you need to lose weight, it may provide a bonus benefit but the strength of the leaves has led to warnings against their use long term.
5) Antibacterial Properties and Oral Health
Senna contains tannins and volatile oils with antibacterial properties that may help inhibit microbial growth and prevent bacterial and fungal infections from taking hold. Some people chew on senna leaf in the same way people chew tobacco to treat oral infections and painful gum infections or gingivitis.
6) Digestive Benefits
Senna herb may be a useful natural remedy against a variety of common digestive complaints. It can be used to treat indigestion, flatulence, bloating and nausea and may also help ease heartburn. It has powerful purgative actions and combines well with other soothing herbs like fennel, peppermint and ginger to relieve upset stomach and gas.
7) Hair Health
As well as its many uses for internal health, senna can also be used topically to treat the hair. According to people who have used it, senna can help you achieve smoother, shinier and more attractive looking hair.
For an even greater effect, you can make your own hair pack by mixing some senna powder with plain water or with yogurt and other healthy ingredients like lemon juice essential oils. Apply your mixture carefully all over your hair and allow it to penetrate the scalp. Cover you hair with a plastic cap, let it sit and dry for a few hours then rinse away with clean water.
Senna can also be used as a natural conditioner to add strength and thickness to your hair. Unlike many commercial products, it is totally natural and chemical free and will provide you with all the benefits that commercial conditioners can.
8) To Highlight your Hair Naturally
If you would like to add subtle and natural looking highlights to your hair, then senna can do the trick. It is not as strong as henna and doesn’t impart very strong colors or reddish shades. The highlights you get from senna are much softer and natural looking. It works because it contains a compound called chrysophanic acid that imparts a light blondish color. Applying senna paste to your hair can both nourish your hair and if give your hair a beautiful appearance.
How to Use Senna
The most common way of using senna is in the form of a tea. It has been approved by the FDA as a natural laxative and the recommended dosage for a healthy adult is around 17 mg a day. You are advised not to use senna in doses exceeding 34 mg a day. The recommended dose to treat constipation in a child is just 8.5 mg a day.
Precautions and Side Effects
Senna is not recommended for long term use and has only been approved to treat constipation rather than weight loss or detox. It is not recommended that you use senna for long periods of time.
The following side effects have been noted:
- Diarrhea and dehydration.
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach upset and abdominal cramp.
- Muscle weakness, heart damage and liver damage may result from long term use.
- Excessive consumption of senna leaf tea may be toxic to the liver.
- Women who are pregnant or breast feeding should avoid using senna unless they are under medical supervision.