Cassia marilandica. American Senna.
This tall and luxuriant plant is found in rich soils in the vicinity of water from New England to Carolina, and westward to the banks of the Missouri. The most northern situation in which I have known it decidedly indigenous, is on the banks of the Quinebaug river near the southern boundary of Massachusetts. It is, however, cultivated in gardens for medicinal use much further to the north. It is a vigorous herbaceous perennial with stalks four or five feet high, having their summits covered in July and August with brilliant yellow flowers.
The extensive genus Cassia has a five-leaved calyx and five petals; anthers unequal, the three uppermost barren, the three lowermost longer, curved and beaked. Legume two-valved.
—The species Marilandica has eight or nine pairs of leafeis, which are oblong-lanceolate, and mucronate; an obovate gland on the petiole. Racemes axillary and terminal; legumes linear and curved.
Class Decandria, order Monogynia. Natural orders Lomentaceae, Linn. Leguminosae, Juss.
The stems, which grow in bunches and often attain the height of five or six feet, are round, striated, and invested with a few scattered hairs. Petioles compressed, channelled above, bearing from eight to ten pairs of leafets, which are oblong, smooth, somewhat hairy at the edges, pale on the under side, supported by short crooked pedicels, and mucronated with a rigid bristle at the end. On the base of the petiole is a large ovate pedicelled gland, of a shining green, terminating in a dark point at top, which is sometimes double. Each petiole is also furnished with a pair of linear-subulate, ciliate, deciduous stipules. The flowers grow in axillary racemes, extending quite to the top of the stem. The peduncles are slightly furrowed, pedicels supported by bractes like the stipules, and marked with minute, blackish, glandular hairs. Leaves of the calyx yellow oval, obtuse, the lateral ones longest. Petals five, bright yellow, spatulate, concave, very obtuse, three ascending and two descending. Stamens ten with yellow filaments and brown anthers. The three upper have short abortive anthers. To these succeed two pairs of deflexed linear anthers. The remaining three, or lowermost, are much longer, crooked, and taper into a sort of beak, the middle one being shortest. The anthers open by a terminal pore. Germ descending with the lower stamens, hairy; style ascending, stigma hairy, moist. The fruit consists of long legumes which are pendulous linear, curved, swelling at the seeds, and furnished with slight hairs.
The predominant constituents of the leaves in this plant appear to be resin extractive, and a volatile matter. The tincture is of a dark brown colour and is rendered extremely turbid by water. The infusion and decoction have a lighter colour and the peculiar taste of the plant. The distilled water is nauseous. It is found that both the infusion and decoction answer for medicinal use, yet it is probable that the tincture would be more strongly operative, did not the sedative effects of the alcohol prove a balance for the additional parts of the medicine dissolved.
The Cassia Marilandica is related to the oriental Senna in its botanical habit, and nearly resembles it in its medicinal virtues.
[There is no doubt that the true Alexandrian Senna is the product of the Cassia Senna of Linnaeus and of Willdenow. Lamarck has occasioned an unnecessary confusion on this subject, and misled other botanists, by changing the Linnaean name C. senna to C. lanceolata; while he has appropriated the name C. senna to the variety ß of Linnaeus, which is the Italian senna, since very properly named C. Italica. See Rees' Cyclopedia, Art. Cassia, &c. The African plant is accounted the most active, although the Italian Senna cultivated in Jamaica, according to Dr. Wright, proved fully equal to it in efficacy.
The greater part of the Senna consumed in the United States is imported from the East Indies. Smaller quantities occasionally reach us from different ports of the Mediterranean and Red seas. The common India senna has a lanceolate leaf narrow and acute; petioles without glands, bearing from five to nine pairs of leaves; and a flat oblong curved legume. Medicinally considered, it is one of the most valuable sorts, operating with mildness and certainty. The facility and cheapness with which it is obtained in India, has long caused it to predominate in our markets.
The India senna, which I have examined, has been very pure, consisting only of leaves of Cassia. The Egyptian has frequently a slight admixture of foreign leaves which are nauseous and bitter.
The Cassia senna would doubtless succeed in our Southern states. The product, consisting of the whole leaves of the plant, must necessarily be large, and would well reward the attention of planters. Ripe seeds may probably be found among the senna of the shops which will vegetate, if not too old. According to Roxburgh and Carey, the Arabian senna cultivated at the Bengal garden is a biennial plant.]
Neither of these plants is to be ranked among the most active cathartics, and they require to be taken in much larger quantities than aloes, rhubarb or jalap, to produce their desired effect. Hence the common form of administering senna is in infusion, a large portion being made to communicate its strength to water at a time. As far as I have been able to observe, about one third more of the Cassia marilandica is required to produce a given effect, than of the C. senna. This objection will prevent it from superseding the senna of the shops, although the facility, with which it may be raised in any part of the United States, will render it a convenient medicine where cheapness is an object. It is already cultivated in gardens for medicinal use, and the infusion and decoction are considerably employed by families and country practitioners.
Cassia Marilandica, Lin. Sp. pl.
Martyn, Cent. t. 23.
Michaux, Flora, i. 261.
Pursh, i. 306.
Nuttall, i. 280.
Cassia mimosae foliis, &c.
Dillenius, t. 260, f. 339.
B. S. Barton, Coll. 32.
Thacher, Disp. 178.