Cassia Acutifolia. Senna.

Description: Natural Order, Leguminosae. Genus CASSIA: Calyx five-sepaled, sepals nearly equal, and scarcely united at base. Corolla papilionaceous, of five unequal petals. Stamens distinct, ten, sometimes fewer by abortion; three upper ones often sterile, four middle ones short and straight, three lower ones longer. Legume one-celled, or many-celled transversely, many-seeded. Leaves simply or abruptly pinnate. Shrubs, trees, or herbs.

Several species of cassia are medicinal, of which most are imported from Egypt, but one is American. The imported species are: 1st. Cassia acutifolia; A perennial plant, of a shrubby character, growing from one to four feet high, with bright-yellow flowers in axillary spikes, with oval-elliptical leaflets nearly an inch long. This is the true Alexandrian senna, and is considered the best. 2d. C. obovata;A perennial of shrubby growth, one to two feet high, with yellow flowers in racemes, and the leaflets obovate and obtuse. 3d. C. elongata;An annual, with bright yellow flowers, in axillary and terminal racemes on long peduncles, with narrow and lanceolate leaflets that are smooth above and slightly downy beneath, and about two inches long. The latter species is obtained from the interior of Arabia and India.

Cassia marilandica is one of several species of senna common in America, and is medicinal. It usually grows in masses on alluvial soils, blooming in August; its beautiful locust-looking leaves and bright-yellow flowers always attracting attention. Stem perennial, two to three feet high, round, pale-green, striate, often with scattered hairs; flowers with three erect petals and two drooping, yellow, growing in a leafy panicle from the upper axils; leaflets six to nine pairs, oblong-lanceolate, mucronate, one to two inches long, on channeled petioles.

As found in the market, senna is nearly always adulterated with the leaves, flowers, and pods of other plants. Some of these adulterations are decidedly objectionable. They can be detected by the fact that senna leaves are always unequal at the base–one side being shorter than the other; while the admixtures are equal-sided, and are also either more silvery in appearance, or thicker, stiffer and more wrinkled, than the senna. The senna leaves are brittle, of a faint odor, and a mucilaginous sweetish (but not-bitter) taste. The Alexandrian species is most liable to adulteration.

Senna leaves contain a small quantity of volatile oil, which may be obtained by distillation, but is not active. Water and alcohol extract their medicinal properties-which reside in a purgative principle called cathartin. Infusions of senna are precipitated by adding to them any soluble alkaline carbonate, as of soda, potassa, or ammonia; by lime water, sulphate of iron, and nitrate of silver.

Properties and Uses: The leaves are the medicinal part of the plant. The imported ones are strongest; but my experience satisfies me that the leaves of American senna, as above mentioned, are as good as the foreign in general action, and about two-thirds their strength. I shall, therefore, include them all under this description of their properties–merely giving the doses and preparations as founded on the use of the Alexandrian leaves.

Senna is a relaxing and stimulating cathartic, expending its power chiefly upon the alvine canal, acting with considerable promptness, procuring rather free and loose discharges. It first creates a somewhat nauseating impression on the stomach, and relaxation of the pulse; but subsequently there are griping, flatulence, moderate excitement of the pulse, and excitement with engorgement of the abdominal and pelvic vessels. It leaves no tonic impression. Its main action seems to be on the smaller intestines; it is absorbed, and will affect nursing children by being given to the mother. It is best suited for cases requiring a prompt cathartic action, and when the abdominal and pelvic viscera are sluggish. It is a popular physic in treating worms, in recent colds, etc. It is very efficient, but not drastic nor unsafe. Its use is contra-indicated whenever there is any inflammation, irritation, or congestion of the abdominal viscera; in hemorrhoids, and in irritation of the womb and menorrhagia. It is not at all so violent as aloes, yet is not a suitable agent in the cases named. Its griping effect is often very unpleasant to nervous temperaments; but this may be nearly obviated by combining it with the aromatics, as ginger or the spices, or with bitartrate of potassa. Its purgative effect is considerably increased when combined with the laxative tonics, as boneset, gentian, balmony, etc.(§261.) The dose of the powder is from half a drachm to a drachm; which usually acts in two and a half or three hours. It is rarely given in powder–the sirup, infusion, or a confection, being preferred.

Pharmaceutical Preparations: I. Infusion. Senna, half an ounce; ginger, sliced, thirty grains; boiling water, ten fluid ounces. Digest in a covered vessel for an hour, and strain. Dose, two to four fluid ounces; or two fluid ounces repeated every two hours, till it operates. An equal quantity of bruised coriander seed may be substituted for the ginger. This infusion is often given with manna.

II. Sirup. Senna, three and a half ounces; bruised fennel seeds, ten drachms; boiling water, one pint. Macerate at a gentle heat for six hours, strain through linen with strong pressure, and add three ounces of manna. Put three pounds of good molasses on a water-bath, and evaporate till a cooled portion of it becomes stiff; and to this, while hot, add the above liquor with stirring till they are thoroughly mixed. This is the English Sirup of Senna; and is the most palatable and least griping preparation of the kind. Dose for a child of eight years, one to two fluid drachms every two hours, till it operates. The U. S. P. sirup uses no manna, and sweetens with sugar.

III. Concentrated Sirup. Fluid Extract. Bruised senna, one pound. Treat in a percolator with diluted alcohol, till twelve fluid ounces have passed. Set this aside, and continue the process till two pints have passed. Add to this last product eight ounces of sugar, and evaporate on a water-bath to twelve fluid ounces. Mix the two products, and add, by trituration, fifty drops oil of fennel. This is a concentrated sirup, though a similar preparation passes under the name of Fluid Extract. It is valuable on account of its small dose–each fluid drachm representing forty-five grains of senna. Its griping action may be further modified by treating one ounce of sliced ginger with the senna. I am in the habit of using senna in what may properly be called a Compound Concentrated Sirup, prepared as follows: Senna and juglans cinerea, each, eight ounces; gentiana ochroleuca and zingiber, each, one ounce. Macerate in equal parts of water and alcohol, transfer to the percolator, and proceed as in the above concentrated sirup. This forms a mild but very reliable cathartic, less griping and exciting than senna alone, and leaving behind a tonic impression. It is also a good vermifuge.

IV. Tincture. Crushed senna, five ounces; raisins, freed from seeds, four ounces; coriander and caraway seeds, bruised, each, four drachms. Macerate for forty-eight hours in diluted alcohol; pack firmly in a percolator, and add the spirits till two pints have been used. Express strongly, filter, and add enough proof spirit to make two pints. This preparation (except that a less quantity of cardamon was used for the caraway) was formerly called elixir salutis. It is a good carminative and stomachic physic. Dose, one to three fluid drachms.

The Physiomedical Dispensatory, 1869, was written by William Cook, M.D.
It was scanned by Paul Bergner at