Several species of Cassia contribute to Senna as a drug of commerce, and were comprised in a single species by Linnaeus under the name of Cassia Senna. Since his day, the subject has been more fully investigated, and it is now known that several countries utilise the leaves of their own indigenous varieties in the same way. The two most widely exported and officially recognized are C. acutifolia and C. augustifolia (India or Tinnevelly Senna and this product).
Senna is an Arabian name, and the drug was first brought into use by the Arabian physicians Serapion and Mesue, and Achiarius was the first of the Greeks to notice it. He recommends not the leaves but the fruit, and Mesue also the pods to the leaves, thinking them more powerful, though they are actually less so.
Traditional Uses of Senna:-
Senna is a Purgative. Its action being chiefly on the lower bowel, it is especially suitable in habitual costiveness. It increases the peristaltic movements of the colon by its local action upon the intestinal wall. In addition to the nauseating taste, it is apt to cause sickness, and griping pains, so that few can take it alone; but these characteristics can be overcome or removed, when it is well adapted for children, elderly persons, and delicate women. The colouring matter is absorbable, and twenty or thirty minutes after the ingestion of the drug it appears in the urine, and may be recognized by a reddish colour on the addition of ammonia.
A Description of Senna from Botanical Herbal.
“The addition of cloves, ginger, cinnamon, or other aromatics are excellent correctives of the nauseous effects. A teaspoonful of cream of tartar to a teacupful of the decoction of infusion of Senna, is a mild and pleasant cathartic, well suited for women if required soon after delivery. Some practitioners add neutral laxative salts, or saccharine and aromatic substances. The purgative effect is increased by the addition of pure bitters; the decoction of guaiacum is said to answer a similar purpose. Senna is contraindicated in an inflammatory condition of the alimentary canal, haemorrhoids, prolapsus, ani, etc. The well-known ‘black draught’ is a combination of Senna and Gentian, with any aromatic, as cardamom or coriander seeds, or the rind of the Seville orange. The term ‘black draught,’ it is stated, should never be used, as mistakes have been made in reading the prescriptions, and ‘black drop’ or vinegar of opium has been given instead, several deaths having been caused in this way.”
SENNA PODS, or the dried, ripe fruits, are official in the British Pharmacopceia, though the quantity is restricted, as an adulterant, in the United States Pharmacopoeia. They are milder in their effects than the leaflets, as the griping is largely due to the resin, and the pods contain none, but have about 25 per cent more cathartie acid and emodin than the leaves, without volatile oil. From 6 to 12 pods for the adult, or from 3 to 6 for the young or very aged, infused in a claret-glass of cold water, act mildly but thoroughly upon the whole intestine.