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Senna alexandrina
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Angiospermae
(unranked): Eudicots
Order: Fabales
Family: Fabaceae
Subfamily: Caesalpinioideae
Tribe: Cassieae
Subtribe: Cassiinae
Genus: Senna
Type species
Senna alexandrina Mill.

Around 250, see text


Cathartocarpus (partim)

Senna (from Arabic sanā), the sennas, is a large genus of around 250 species of flowering plants in the family Fabaceae, subfamily Caesalpinioideae. This diverse genus is native throughout the tropics, with a small number of species reaching into temperate regions. Almost all species were at one time or another placed in Cassia, a close relative which until recent decades served as a "wastebin taxon" to hold all Cassiinae.[1] The species were reassigned by Howard Samuel Irwin and Rupert Charles Barneby, but this process is not entirely complete and some corrections may still take place.

Typically Senna species have yellowish flowers. They may be herbs, smallish trees or even a kind of liana, but typically are shrubs or subshrubs. They are buzz pollinated and offer pollen as a reward (the flowers supply no nectar to pollinators).[2]


Ecology and uses

Siamese Senna (S. siamea) leaves can be eaten as a vegetable

Senna species make good ornamental plants and are used for landscape gardening. The wide variety of species and ecological adaptations makes at least a handful of sennas suitable for any climate warmer than cool-temperate.

Cassia gum - a commonly-used thickening agent -, despite its name is actually from Chinese Senna (S. obtusifolia) seeds. In some Southeast Asian cuisines (particularly those of Thailand and Laos), the leaves and flowers of Siamese Senna (S. siamea, called khi-lek in Thai), either fresh or pickled in brine, are used in cooking, particularly in gaeng khi-lek (khi-lek curry).[1][2].

Another senna, Senna italica ssp. italica (= Cassia obovata), often called "neutral henna", is used as a hair treatment with effects similar to henna but without the red color. The active component is an anthraquinone derivative called chrysophanic acid, which is also found in higher concentrations in rhubarb root. It adds a slight yellow color.
Some species of Senna are notable for being host to caterpillars of certain Lepidoptera species, for example:

They are pollinated by a variety of bees, especially large female bees in genera such as Xylocopa.[2] Some species also have extrafloral nectaries on the leaves or flower stalks, which attract ants but do not benefit pollinators.[2]


In medicine

Sennas have for millennia played a major role in herbalism and folk medicine. Alexandrian Senna (S. alexandrina) was and still is a significant item of trans-national trade e.g. by the Ababdeh people and grown commercially, traditionally along the middle Nile but more generally in many regions around the northwestern Indian Ocean.

Sennas act as purgatives and are similar to aloe and rhubarb in having as active ingredients anthraquinone derivatives and their glucosides. The latter are called sennosides or senna glycosides. Senna alexandrina is used in modern medicine as a laxative;[4] acting on the lower bowel, it is especially useful in alleviating constipation. It increases the peristaltic movements of the colon by irritating the colonic mucosa. The plants are most often prepared as an infusion. Senna glycosides are listed as ATC code A06AB06 on their own and A06AB56 in combined preparations.

Resveratrol was first isolated from Senna quinquangulata

As regards other chemicals, the antiinflammatory compound resveratrol was first isolated from S. quinquangulata, and Siamese Senna S. siamea contains barakol used to counteract aconitine poisoning. Chinese Senna (S. obtusifolia) seeds are also used in Kampō (traditional Japanese medicine) where they are called ketsumei-shi (ケツメイシ, 決明子) or by their Chinese name jué míng zǐ (traditional: 決明子, simplified: 决明子).

The long-standing use of (mainly) Alexandrian Senna is reflected by its presence in many herbal remedies and tonics. These include for example Black draught, Catholicon, Daffy's Elixir, Diasenna (literally meaning "composed of senna") and Swedish bitters. On the other hand, it was contained in more dangerous "medications" such as the highly toxic antihelminthic Lumbricide and - because their purgative effects are a readily-observed "proof" that some concoction "works" - many generally useless and often poisonous "patent medicine".

Senna is also the primary ingredient found in most "dieter's teas". The combination of acting as a stimulant which reduces a dieter's appetite, and the laxative properties that cause food to move through their system before as many calories can be absorbed is a combination that can lead to rapid and even dangerous weight loss.

The stimulant action of sennosides should be taken into account for those who suffer from any conditions where stimulants are contraindicated, such as past heart disease, high blood pressure, anxiety attacks, etc. A (generally invisible and harmless) side effect of taking Senna medication regularly is Melanosis coli, a brown discoloration of the colon wall.

Selected species

Senna aversiflora flowers
Senna didymobotrya
Undetermined Senna species
Velvet-leaved Senna, Senna lindheimeriana
Senna multiglandulosa flower
Coffee Senna (Senna occidentalis) leaf
Senna surattensis
Senna glutinosa
  • Senna acclinis (F.Muell.) Randell
  • Senna aculeata (Benth.) H.S.Irwin & Barneby
  • Senna alata (L.) Roxb. – Candle Bush, Candelabra Bush, Empress Candle Plant, Candlestick Tree, Ringworm Tree, "candletree"
  • Senna alexandrina Mill. – Alexandrian Senna, Egyptian Senna, Tinnevelly Senna, East Indian Senna, sene de la palthe (French)
  • Senna angulata (Vogel) H.S.Irwin & Barneby
  • Senna appendiculata (Vogel) Wiersema (= S. australis)
  • Senna armata (S.Watson) H.S.Irwin & Barneby
  • Senna artemisioides (Gaudich. ex DC.) Randell – Silver Senna, Feathery Senna
  • Senna auriculata (L.) Roxb. – Avaram Senna, avaram, ranawara
  • Senna aversiflora (Herbert) H.S.Irwin & Barneby
  • Senna bicapsularis – Rambling Senna, Christmas Bush, Money Bush, Yellow Candlewood
  • Senna birostris (Vogel) H.S.Irwin & Barneby
  • Senna candolleana (Vogel) H.S.Irwin & Barneby
  • Senna cardiosperma (F.Muell.) Randell
  • Senna caudata (Standl.) H.S.Irwin & Barneby (Costa Rica, Panama)
  • Senna cobanensis (Britton & Rose) H.S.Irwin & Barneby
  • Senna corymbosa – Argentine Senna, Argentina Senna, Buttercup Bush, Flowering Senna, (Texas) Flowery Senna, Tree Senna
  • Senna covesii (A.Gray) H.S.Irwin & Barneby – Desert Senna, Coues' Senna, Rattleweed
  • Senna cumingii (Hook. & Arn.) H.S.Irwin & Barneby
  • Senna cuthbertsonii (F.Muell.) Randell
  • Senna didymobotrya (Fresen.) H.S.Irwin & Barneby
  • Senna domingensis (Spreng.) H.S.Irwin & Barneby (Cuba, Hispaniola)
  • Senna excelsa (Schrad) Irwin & Barneby
  • Senna fruticosa (Mill.) H.S.Irwin & Barneby
  • Senna garrettiana (Craib) H.S.Irwin & Barneby
  • Senna gaudichaudii (Hook. & Arn.) H.S.Irwin & BarnebyHeuhiuhi (Pacific Islands, Queensland)[5][6]
  • Senna hayesiana (Britton & Rose) H.S.Irwin & Barneby
  • Senna hebecarpa – American Senna, Wild Senna
  • Senna helmsii
  • Senna heptanthera (F.Muell.) Randell
  • Senna hirsuta (L.) H.S.Irwin & Barneby
    • Senna hirsuta var. puberula
  • Senna italica Mill.
    • Senna italica ssp. italica – Neutral Henna
  • Senna ligustrina (L.) H.S.Irwin & Barneby
  • Senna lindheimeriana (Scheele) H.S.Irwin & Barneby – Velvet-leaved Senna
  • Senna macranthera (Collad.) H.S.Irwin & Barneby
    • Senna macranthera var. macranthera
  • Senna magnifolia (F.Muell.) Randell
  • Senna marilandica (L.) Link
  • Senna martiana (Benth.) H.S.Irwin & Barneby
  • Senna martiana (Schrad) Irwin & Barneby
  • Senna multiglandulosa (Jacq.) H.S.Irwin & Barneby
  • Senna multijuga (Rich.) H.S.Irwin & Barneby
    • Senna multijuga var. lindleyana (Gardner) H.S.Irwin & Barneby
  • Senna nicaraguensis (Benth.) H.S.Irwin & Barneby
  • Senna nitida (Rich.) H.S. Irwin & Barneby
  • Senna notabilis (F.Muell.) Randell
  • Senna obtusifolia (L.) H.S.Irwin & Barneby – Chinese Senna, Sicklepod, Foetid Senna, Sickle Senna, Coffeeweed, Arsenic Weed, "blunt-leaved senna", "coffee pod", "java bean"
  • Senna occidentalis (L.) Link – Coffee Senna, Mogdad Coffee (Pantropical)[7]
  • Senna odorata (R. Morris) Randall
  • Senna oligoclada (F.Muell.) Randell
  • Senna oligophylla
  • Senna pallida (Vahl) H.S.Irwin & Barneby
  • Senna papillosa (Britton & Rose) H.S.Irwin & Barneby
  • Senna pendula (Willd.) H.S.Irwin & Barneby
    • Senna pendula var. stahlii (Urb.) Irwin & Barneby
  • Senna pleurocarpa (F.Muell.) Randell
  • Senna polyphylla (Jacq.) H.S. Irwin & Barneby
  • Senna purpusii (Brandegee) H.S.Irwin & Barneby
  • Senna rugosa (G.Don.) H.S.Irwin & Barneby
  • Senna scandens
  • Senna septemtrionalis (Viv.) H.S.Irwin & Barneby
  • Senna siamea (Lam.) H.S.Irwin & Barneby – Siamese Senna, khi-lek (Thai)
  • Senna spectabilis (DC.) Irwin & Barneby
    • Senna spectabilis var. excelsa
    • Senna spectabilis var. micans - sometimes placed in Senna macranthera
  • Senna splendida (Vogel) H.S.Irwin & Barneby
  • Senna surattensis (Burm.f.) H.S.Irwin & Barneby (= S. speciosa Roxb.)
  • Senna sulfurea (Collad.) H.S.Irwin & Barneby
  • Senna sylvestris (Vell.) H.S.Irwin & Barneby
    • Senna sylvestris var. bifaria H.S.Irwin & Barneby
  • Senna timoriensis (DC.) H.S.Irwin & Barneby
  • Senna tora L. – Sickle Wild Sensitive-plant
  • Senna trolliiflora
  • Senna undulata (Vahl) H.S.Irwin & Barneby
  • Senna venusta (F.Muell.) Randell
  • Senna wislizeni – Wislizenus' Senna, Shrubby Senna


  1. ^ ILDIS (2005)
  2. ^ a b c Marazzi, B. (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: 288. doi:10.3732/ajb.93.2.288.  
  3. ^ Hébert et al. (2004) refer to "Cassia emarginata", which today is either of Chamaecrista pilosa, Rambling Senna (S. bicapsularis) or Senna candolleana. The last does not occur in their study area; given the general importance of Senna species and the lack of records for Chamaecrista species as foodplants in the study area, S. bicapsularis seems to be the plant in question. See also Brower (2006).
  4. ^ Spiller, Ha; Winter, Ml; Weber, Ja; Krenzelok, Ep; Anderson, Dl; Ryan, Ml (May 2003). "Skin breakdown and blisters from senna-containing laxatives in young children". The Annals of pharmacotherapy 37 (5): 636–9. doi:10.1345/aph.1C439. ISSN 1060-0280. PMID 12708936.  
  5. ^ "kolomona, kalamona, heuhiuhi, uhiuhi". Hawaiian Ethnobotany Online Database. Bernice P. Bishop Museum. Retrieved 2009-03-10.  
  6. ^ "Senna gaudichaudii". Hawaiian Native Plant Propagation Database. University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Retrieved 2009-03-10.  
  7. ^ "Senna occidentalis (L.) Link". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. 2004-01-22. Retrieved 2009-03-28.  


External links


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