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Senna.

Botanical name:

Related entry: Cassia marilandica

The dried leaflets of (1) Cassia acutifolia, Delile, or of (2) Cassia angustifolia, Vahl (Nat. Ord. Leguminosae). (1) Eastern and central Africa; (2) cultivated from eastern Africa to India. Dose, 60 to 120 grains.
Common Names: Senna, (1) Alexandria Senna, (2) India or Tinnivelly Senna.

Principal Constituents.—An amorphous, water-soluble, sulphurated glucoside—cathartinic acid (which may be split into cathartogenic acid and glucose), emodin, sennacrol and sennapicrin (water-insoluble glucosides), and chrysophanic acid.
Preparations.—1. Specific Medicine Senna. Dose, 5 to 60 drops.
2. Infusum Senna Compositum, Compound Infusion of Senna (Black Draught). (Senna, Manna, Magnesium Sulphate, Fennel, Boiling Water.) Dose, 2 to 8 fluidounces.
3. Pulvis Glycyrrhiza Compositus, Compound Powder of Glycyrrhiza (Compound Licorice Powder), (Senna, Glycyrrhiza, Oil of Fennel, Washed Sulphur, Sugar). Dose, 1 to 2 drachms.
4. Pulvis Jalapa Compositus, Compound Powder of Jalap (Antibilious Physic). Contains Senna. See Jalapa.
Specific Indications.—Flatulence and colic; a laxative for non-inflammatory conditions of the intestinal tract.

Action and Therapy.—Senna is a manageable and useful cathartic producing copious yellowish-brown evacuations, and causing considerable griping when used alone. While it influences the whole intestinal tract, exciting peristalsis as it passes along, the greater action is exerted upon the colon. This renders it a certain purgative, for by this sequence the whole canal is the more readily emptied. It does not produce after-constipation, as does rhubarb and some other laxatives; and it may purge a nursing infant when administered to the mother. Senna is neither sedative nor refrigerant, but if anything somewhat stimulant, and is, therefore, not to be given in irritated or acutely inflamed conditions of the alimentary tube nor when there is great debility, or hemorrhoids, or prolapse of the rectum. Notwithstanding, it is effectual and safe to cleanse the bowels at the beginning of fevers, when such an effect is desired. It may be used as a laxative or more complete cathartic in children and adults when a severe action is not indicated. In most individuals it occasions nausea, tormina and flatulence when given alone, as in senna tea, but these effects may be mitigated by infusing it with coffee, or by the addition of cloves, ginger, peppermint, cinnamon, or other aromatic corroborants. Cream of tartar added to it increases its action, producing a hydragogue and refrigerant effect, while bitters in general seem to increase its action. Senna is one of the anthracene group of cathartics, and its action is largely, though not wholly, due to the presence of cathartinic acid. The latter taken up by the blood, or injected, is emptied into the intestinal canal, thereby causing or prolonging catharsis.

Compound Powder of Jalap. A most thorough action may be obtained from the Antibilious Physic, especially in auto-intoxication, and intestinal toxemia, giving rise to a violent, burning, diffuse rash, such as sometimes follows prolonged constipation, or the ingestion of tainted foods—particularly sea foods and fruit. This preparation is less irritant than senna alone, and unless there is very marked gastro-intestinal inflammation, it is seldom contraindicated. The physicing dose is one drachm, in hot water, cooled and sweetened; or milk, lemonade, or coffee may be used as a vehicle. It may also be given in large-sized gelatin capsules.

Compound Licorice Powder. A pleasant and efficient laxative in doses of 30 to 120 grains (average 60), given in plenty of water, at bedtime, for the general cleansing of the bowels of undigested material, relieving headache arising therefrom; and an admirable laxative for the pregnant and parturient woman, and for children. It may be given in water, or the ready-prepared lozenges may be used, the patient partaking also of plenty of water.


The Eclectic Materia Medica, Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 1922, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D.



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