Senna, also known as Wild Senna, Cassia marilandica, or Locust Plant, is a plant species belonging to the legume family (Fabaceae) and is native to regions of Africa, the Middle East and Asia. The leaves and fruit of the senna plant are used for medicinal purposes, primarily as a natural laxative. Senna has been used for centuries in traditional medicine systems, including Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine, for its purgative properties.

How Does Senna Work?

The active compounds in senna responsible for its laxative effects are known as anthraquinone glycosides, particularly sennosides A and B. These compounds stimulate the muscles of the intestines, increasing peristalsis and promoting bowel movements. As a result, senna is commonly used to relieve constipation and facilitate bowel evacuation.

Senna works by interacting with bacteria in the digestive tract, resulting in intestinal contractions. The contractions are caused by the anthraquinone that is contained in Senna. These dimeric glycosides anthraquinone derivatives are known as Senna glycosides or sennosides. They are named after their abundant occurrence in these plants of the genus Senna. The main forms of these glycosides are often referred to by: A, B, C & D.

Glycosides are a group of organic compounds that are commonly found in plants. These compounds work as a laxative by smoothing the muscles as digested food moves through the intestines. This helps to enhance the stool volume and move it out of the colon. The process is caused by the chain of fatty acids that promote digestion, fermentation, and successfully converting the glycosides into a purgative agent.

Which Part of Senna is Used Medicinally?

The parts of the Senna plant used for medicinal purposes are:

Dried leaves of the senna plant are commonly used to prepare herbal teas or infusions. Senna tea is a popular natural remedy for constipation and is often consumed before bedtime to induce bowel movements the following morning.
Active Compounds: The leaves of the Senna plant contain the highest concentration of sennosides, which are the compounds responsible for its laxative effects.
Laxative Action: Senna leaves are used to make herbal teas, extracts, or capsules that are known for their laxative properties. They are often used to relieve constipation and promote bowel movements.

Pods (Fruit)
The dried fruit pods of the senna plant are sometimes used as an alternative to the leaves. Senna pods contain similar active compounds and can be brewed into a tea or used to prepare herbal preparations.
Active Compounds: While not as commonly used as the leaves, the pods of the Senna plant also contain sennosides, albeit in lower concentrations compared to the leaves.
Traditional Uses: In some traditional practices, preparations made from Senna pods are used for their laxative effects.

How to Use Senna

Senna has been used in India for thousands of years as a laxative. It is generally used by people suffering from constipation. For relief, a person should take ½ teaspoon of the liquid, or one 50 or 100 mg capsule or tablet. After taking the Senna, a bowel movement should occur within six to 12 hours. There is also a tea available, but since Senna has an unpleasant taste naturally, it is good to mix the tea with another flavor of tea.

Senna is the ingredient in the commercial laxative suppository called Senokot. The suppositories are inserted into the rectum for constipation relief.

Senna products are available in various forms, including tea bags and loose tea, liquid extracts, tablets, and capsules. The undiluted dried root can be found in health food stores.
Liquid extracts or tinctures of senna are available for those who prefer a more concentrated form of the herb. Senna extracts are often standardized to contain specific amounts of sennosides for consistent dosing.

Senna is also available in tablet or capsule form, either alone or in combination with other herbs or ingredients. These preparations offer a convenient and standardized dosage for individuals seeking relief from constipation.

It’s important to use Senna products cautiously and in accordance with recommended dosages, as excessive use or prolonged use may lead to dependence and electrolyte imbalances.

When taking senna or senna-containing products, it’s generally recommended to consume them with a sufficient amount of water.

This is particularly important for several reasons:

Facilitates Bowel Movement: Drinking water along with senna helps ensure that the herb reaches the digestive tract and facilitates its action as a laxative. Senna works by stimulating the muscles of the intestines, increasing peristalsis, and promoting bowel movements. Adequate hydration helps support these processes and can enhance the effectiveness of senna in relieving constipation.

Prevents Dehydration: Senna has a laxative effect, which can lead to increased fluid loss through bowel movements. Drinking water helps replenish lost fluids and prevents dehydration, especially if senna is used over an extended period or at higher doses. Dehydration can exacerbate constipation and other gastrointestinal symptoms, so it’s important to stay well-hydrated while using senna.

Minimizes Potential Side Effects: Drinking water with senna can help minimize the risk of potential side effects such as abdominal cramps, bloating, and discomfort. Adequate hydration supports healthy digestion and helps soothe the gastrointestinal tract, reducing the likelihood of experiencing adverse effects associated with senna use.

Enhances Comfort: Taking senna with water can make it easier to swallow the herb or senna-containing products such as tablets, capsules, or teas. Drinking water before or after consuming senna can also help wash down the taste and improve overall comfort during administration.

Senna Tea

Many people like to take herbal preparations in the form of a tea. Senna tea comes in teabags and can be found in health food stores, but some people like to use the loose leaves of Senna and brew the tea themselves. Steep the leaves in a pot of boiling water for approximately ten minutes.

The leaves can also be put in cold water and steeped for 10 to 12 hours. Using cold water to steep the leaves will leave less resin in the tea, so the chances of abdominal cramping will be reduced. Regardless of the method used, once the tea is ready, strain and drink. When relieving constipation with Senna tea, it will take up to 12 hours to get relief. It is recommended to take before bedtime, so that relief can occur in the morning.

Another common preparation is to boil 100 grams of the tea leaves in distilled water with 5 grams of fresh ginger that has been sliced. Cover and steep for 15 minutes, strain, and drink while hot. Make only the amount to drink, as the Senna tea gets stronger if it sits, and can lead to abdominal cramping. Other carminative herbs that mix well with Senna are peppermint and fennel. When sensitive stomachs are an issue, making the tea from the Senna pod rather than the leaves produces a milder tea as the pods are less potent than the leaves.

Always take care when taking herbs and Read Our Disclaimer.

Senna Herb Notes / Side Effects

While senna is generally considered safe and effective for short-term use in relieving occasional constipation, prolonged or excessive use of senna can lead to dependence, electrolyte imbalances, dehydration, abdominal cramps, and other gastrointestinal disturbances.

There are times when Senna should not be taken. Senna should not be used by individuals with certain medical conditions, including; intestinal blockage, inflammatory bowel disease, abdominal pain of unknown origin, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, haemorrhoids or ulcers.

Anyone on heart medication of any kind should consult their physician before taking Senna, as is can interfere with the medications and cause irregularities in the heart. Senna should not be taken if taking a diuretic because it can result in an excessive depletion of potassium from the body.

When using Senna tea, never drink it for more than seven consecutive days. Also, it should not be used by pregnant women or if the women are nursing. Do not give Senna tea to children under 12 years of age.

Senna is a relatively strong laxative, and should be taken in moderation only for the period when a cure is needed. It has been known to be habit forming, so it should not be used daily. If constipation is extreme, medical attention should be sought. Do not continue to use Senna as a way to prevent constipation from occurring.

Sometimes diarrhoea can occur when taking Senna. Always start with a lesser dose until the body’s response to the effects of Senna is known.

When using senna or senna-containing products, it’s important to follow the recommended dosage instructions provided on the product label or as directed by a healthcare professional. Additionally, be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day, even if you’re not experiencing constipation, to support overall hydration and digestive health.

If you experience severe or persistent abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhea, or other adverse effects while using senna, discontinue use and consult a healthcare professional for further evaluation and guidance.

It’s advisable to consult with a healthcare professional before using Senna or any other herbal remedy if you are pregnant, nursing, have gastrointestinal issues, or are taking medications, as Senna may interact with certain medications and have potential side effects. Additionally, long-term use of laxatives, including those containing Senna, should be done under the guidance of a healthcare provider.

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