Botanical name: Cassia angustifolia or Cassia senna
Native origin: Northern Africa, the Middle East, and India
Part Used: Leaves
This tall, elegant herb grows 3 to 6 feet high and is topped with star-like yellow flowers. The leaves and pods contain constituents called sennosides, which stimulate your bowels to move. Not great dinner conversation, maybe, but great to know when you need occasional relief.
Did you know? Senna’s common name comes from the Hebrew ketziah or kiddah (cassia), which means “peeled back”, possibly referring to senna’s easily peeled bark.
There are nearly 200 different species of senna. We primarily source Cassia angustifolia from its native habitat in the Thar Desert region of Rajasthan, India.
Senna leaf has been popular as a laxative for centuries, used mostly as a tea or in powdered form. The earliest recorded use of senna dates back to two Arab physicians during the 9th century. Once in use, senna popularized rapidly; wild collected in southern Egypt and carried by camel caravans to the Nile or to Red Sea ports, where it quickly made its way into the traditional herbal systems of Western Europe.
With such a long history of use, it’s not surprising that senna-based preparations for occasional constipation are part of the essential pharmacology of many of the great systems of traditional herbal medicine including, among others, Ayurvedic, Traditional Chinese, Unani, and European or Western herbal medicine traditions.
- People and Planet
The Great Indian Thar Desert in Western Rajasthan is an extremely arid region where the average rainfall is below 200 millimeters in a year. Droughts are frequent, occurring every second or third year, causing much hardship to the local community. It’s in this precarious place that our organic senna is cultivated and harvested by approximately 300 farming families.
In 2009, we, along with Martin Bauer, Umalaxmi, Gravis, CAZRI and WomenServe partnered to address these social and economic issues as well as to develop higher quality senna, and improve best agricultural practices. We implemented the Revive! Project™ in six farming villages, home to over 12,000 people. The Revive! Project focuses on water and food security, healthcare, education, and women’s empowerment. Through the program, access to water has been made easier through community ponds and underground family water tanks. The project shows how organic agriculture combined with social business values can improve lives and change the world.
Learn more about the Revive! Project™ here.
Of the many quality tests we have for senna, two particularly important ones are identity testing and strength testing.
Identification guarantees that we’re working with the right herb. Our senna arrives dried and cut, so its identity can’t be verified just by looking at it—it has to be done in our lab.
The first thing we look for under the microscope for senna are small warty trichomes, tiny hairs on the surface of the senna leaf. They look like little sharpened cucumbers.
Strength testing is the iron man championship for our herbs—a series of rigorous steps that make sure each batch is potent enough to meet both pharmacopoeial grade quality and our own high standards, which sometimes go beyond pharmacopeial grade.
For senna, this involves testing sennosides, one of the active ingredients in senna. Sennosides aid the digestive system, stimulating the lower intestine to contract and move things along. This means that in senna leaves, the level of sennosides is extremely important. The European Pharmacopoeia requires a certain level of sennosides in order to meet the grade to help ensure that each bag of our tea works as it should. Anything lower than that won’t pass our test. Its detailed work, but we run a pretty smooth operation—and so will you.
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