Senna is a plant that is originally from Africa. Arab merchants introduced it to Europe in the ninth and tenth centuries and it spread to the US. There are various species of the senna plant in North America but all can be used interchangeably for medicinal purposes. Alexandrian senna is the type of senna that is commercially available in the US but it is actually a blend of three different species of the senna plant.
The Senna Plant
The senna plant is a small wood shrub that belongs to the pea family. It has yellow flowers and the fruit is actually small seed pods. Both the leaves and the seed pods are used for herbal remedies. The senna leaf can be used fresh or dried and the seed pods are dried. Leaves are picked when plant is in bloom and the pods are collected when ripe in autumn. The senna leaf and the fruit of the plant are one of the most frequently used ingredients in commercial laxative preparations.
What is in Senna?
The active ingredient is senna is mainly anthraquinone glycosides which cause the intestinal muscles to contract strongly and limits fluid loss from the large intestine making it an effective laxative and pain reliever when constipation is a problem. Senna also contains other various minerals, flavonoids and mucilage. Be aware that the strong effects of senna make it unsuitable for children under the age of twelve and it can not be used long term or over the recommended dosage as this could result in dehydration and loss of nutrients. It is best to consult your physician before using senna if you are taking any other medications especially medications prescribed for heart conditions.
How to Use Senna
For acute or severe constipation, pour one cup of hot water over one teaspoon dried senna leaves or fruit. Strain after ten minutes and drink one cup in the morning and again in the evening. Do not do this for more than eight to ten days. Because senna is extremely bitter, some people choose to make a tea blend that includes half a teaspoon of senna leaves or fruit and a quarter teaspoon of fresh gingerroot. Pour one cup of hot water over the blend and allow to steep for ten minutes. Strain and add one drop of peppermint oil just before drinking to cut the bitterness. Senna can be found in most health food stores in the form of extracts, tablets and granules for constipation also. Follow the directions on the label carefully for the greatest benefits and to prevent getting dehydrated.
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