Cassia Marilandica. American Senna.

Botanical name: 

Table 12. Cassia marilandica.

Wild-Senna. Maryland-Cassia. Senna.
Mariland'tsche Cassie. Germ. (Willd.)
Cassia. Greek. Kassia, kasie.
Deutsch. Cassia, Kassien.
Hol. Kassie.
Dan. Cassie.
Schwed. Cassie.
Engl. The Cassia.
French. La Casse, le Cassier.
Ital. &c Cassia.

Cassia Marilandica, L.
Hort. Cliff. 159.
Hort. Upsal. 100.
Roy. Lugdb. 467.
Mill. Dict. n. 6.
Kniph. cent. 12. n. 22.
Du Roi Harbk. 1. p. 133.
Willd. Arb. 54.
Dill. Elth. 351. t. 260. f. 339.
Gron. Virg. 65.
Mart. cent. 23. t. 23.
Houttuyn Lin. Pfl. Syst. 3. p. 520.
Willd. Plant, tom. 2. part 1. p. 524.
Mich. Fl. Boreali-Am. vol. 1. p. 261.
Pursh, Fl. Am. Sep. vol. 1. p. 306.
Muhl. Cat. Pl. Am. Sep. p. 42.
Barton's Prodr. Fl. Ph. p. 49.
Barton's Collections. 3d ed. part 1. p. 31.
Coxe's Am. Disp. 3d ed. p. 248.
Shoepf. Mat. Med. Am. p. 63.
Thatcher's Disp. 2d ed. p. 177.
Pers. Syn. Pl. vol. 1. p. 458.
Ait. Hort. Kew. 2d ed. vol. 3. p. 29.
Chapman's Elem Thera. &c vol. 1. p. 209.


Gen. Plant. edit. Schreb. n. 700.

Cal. o-phyllus. Petala 5. Anthem supremae 3, steriles; infima: 3, rostratse. Lomentum. (Willd.)
Cal. 5-phyllus. Pet. 5. subaequalia. Anth. supremae 3, steriles, infima: 3. rostrate, in filamentis longioribus incurvis. Legumen. membranaceum 2-valve. (Pursh.)
Nat. Syst. Jus. Leguminosx. Classis XIV. Ordo XI.

Cassia, T. L. * Senna, T. * Casse, Sene. Calix 5-partitus coloratus deciduus. Petala 5, quorum inferiora majora. Staminum filamenta 10 distincta, 3 inferiora longiora antheris longis arcuatis, 4 lateralia antheris brevibus, 3 superiora brevia antheris effoetis. Germen pedunculatum. Legumen oblongum 2-valve dissepimentis transversis multiloculare loculis 1-spermis, nunc planum membranaceum siccum, latius &. breve, aut longum & angustius, nunc subcylindricum lignosum intus saepe pulposum vix dehiscens. Arbusculae aut suffrutices; folia pinnata, opposite 1-12-juga aut rarius multijuga, petiolo communi ad basim aut et inter foliola ssepe glanduloso; flores axillares spicati aut rarius subsolitarii. An ratione fmctus dividendum genus in Sennam legumine membranaceo & Cassiam legumine pulposo?
Juss. Gen. Plant. p. 348. ed. 1789.

Cal. Perianth five-leaved, (five-cleft, Gxrt. Juss.) lax, concave, coloured, deciduous. Cor. Petals five, roundish, concave; lower ones more distant, more spreading, larger. Stam. Filaments ten, declined; the three inferior ones longer; three inferior anthers very large, arcuate, beaked, opening at the tip; three lateral ones without a beak; three upper ones very small, barren. Fist. Germ somewhat cylindrical, long, pedicelled; style very short; stigma obtuse, ascending. Peric. Legume oblong, with transverse partitions. Seeds several, roundish, affixed to the upper suture.
Calix five-leaved. Petals five; three upper anthers barren; three lower ones beaked. Fruit a legume.
Obs. Tournefort divided the genus into two; cassia with oblong legumes, entire partitions, and generally pulpy cells; and senna, with gibbous, inflexed, and very thin partitions. Gxrtner has adopted his two genera with the following essential characters:
Senna. Calix five-cleft, deciduous. Cor. Petals five, lower ones larger. Stamens ten, separate; three upper anthers barren, the rest fertile: three lower ones arcuate. Legume membranous, many-celled. Seeds albuminous. Embrio straight.
Cassia. Flower as in senna. Legume long, cylindrical, woody, not opening by valves, many celled; cells filled with pulp. Seeds albuminous; albumen with a chink on each side. Embrio straight.
Nat. Ord. Lin. Lomentacex.
Classis Decandria. Ordo Monogynia. Ency.

Cassia Marilandica. C. foliis octojugis ovato-oblongis aequalibus, glandula baseos petiolorum. Willd.
C. glabriuscula; foliis 8-jugis lanceolato-oblongis mucronatis sub aequalibus, glandula petiolari obovata, racemis axillaribus et paniculato-terminalibus, leguminibus linearibus arcuatis glabris. Pursh.
C. Marilandica. Herbacea, glabriuscida: foliis 8-jugis, sublanceolato-oblongis, utrinque obtusiusculis; glandula petiolari obovata: spicis axillaribus et paniculato-terminalibus: antheris atro-fuscis.
Obs. Foliola mucronata. Legumen angusto-lineare, arcuatum, glabrum. Mich. Fl. Bor.


Cassia mimosae foliis, siliqua hirsuta. Dill. Elth.
C. foliis octo saepius parium ovato-oblongis sequalibus, glandula supi-a basin petiolorum. Gron. Virg.

Descriptio Uberior.

Planta herbacea 3, aut 4 pedalium proceritate; undique praeter basin petiolum et fructum, glabriuscula. Radix perennis, lignea, contorta, nigra; nunc horizontalis, nunc in terra profunde immersa; radiculis pluribus, extus atris intra flavis. Caules multi, erecti, teretes; ramis subhorizontalibus tanquam cum cardine articulatis. Folia 8-juga, ovato-oblonga, velut mucronata. Glandula petiolari obovata. Flores in racemis axillaribus siti. Petala obovata, 5, quorum inferiora majora. Staminum filamenta 10. Germen pedunculatum albido-villosum. Legumen lineari-longum arcutatum sparse hirsutum. Habitat in arenosis locis prope rivos, a Novo-Eboraco ad Carobnam, Augusto florens.
Barton's Fl. Ph. MS.

The generic name of this plant is of Asiatic origin, and was brought into Greece along with the commercial article which it denoted, by the Phoenician merchants. ["It is the ___, ketsieh, of the Hebrews and other orientals. In the books of the Old Testament it occurs, indeed, only once, and that in the plural number. "Thou lovest righteousness and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. All thy garments smell of myrrh and aloes, and cassia." — Ps. xlv. 7, 8. This psalm, we apprehend, may be referred without hesitation to the reign of Solomon. The plural termination was probably adopted by the Hebrews, on account of the small detached pieces into which the bark was usually divided when it came into the hands of the merchants; but the seventy, in conformity with the general usage of Greek writers, give it in the singular number, and with a single σ, which sppears to be the original orthography. But though the Phoenicians communicated the name to the Greeks, they did not themselves adopt that by which this precious commodity was known in its native climate. In the Hebrew language, of which the Syro-Phcenician is only a different dialect, the verb ___ signifies to strip any thing of its covering; and thence was naturally applied in a substantive form to denote the bark of a tree separated from the trunk: and the high value which was set on the aromatic bark brought from the remotest regions of the then known earth, might as naturally cause it to be called bark by way of eminence; in the same manner as another kind of bark is thus distinguished in modern times. The word cassia occurs in two other passages of our common translation of the Old Testament: Exod. xxx. 24. Ezek. xxvii. 19; but in these the original ___, which the septuagint in Exodus render ορισ, in Ezekiel appear not to have had in their copies. It was probably somewhat different from cassia; but from its connection in the book of Exodus with myrrh, cinnamon, and sweet calamus, appears to have come from the same countries, and to have possessed similar properties.
"This oriental aromatic is the cassia of modern cookery, but not of modern botany. We must therefore refer for its character and history to the article laurus y under which genus it is now placed.
"The naturalist has often reason to lament that travellers and merchants have given the name of one thing long known to another recently discovered, on account of a real or fancied resemblance in a single particular, although in every other respect it is entirely different. Such has been the fate of cassia. The Romans used the word with considerable latitude. When Virgil, extolling the simple fare of the husbandman, says,
"Nee casia liquidi corrumpitur usus olivi,"
he cannot be supposed to speak of the cassia which he mentions in his second eclogue, as interwoven with the flowers of the violet, poppy, narcissus, and sweet smelling anise in the garland made for Alexis by the naiad. In the former passage he undoubtedly alludes to the aromatic bark which the luxurious citizens of Rome infused in their table and culinary oil to give it a grateful smell and flavour. In the latter he must have intended some odoriferous herb or shrub which is a native of Italy; but by what name it is now known, cannot easily be determined.
"In the middle ages, the Arabian and Greek physicians, as appears from the writings of Avicenna and Myrepsus, acknowledged two kinds of cassia; one cassia aromatica, a native of India, the cassia of the ancients; the other, cassia solutiva, a native of Egypt, totally different in its general appearance, botanical characters, and medical qualities; and which appears to have been honoured with the same name as that which from time immemorial had distinguished the precious oriental spice, merely on account of its pleasant smell; for we are informed by Alpinus, that when he was in Egypt, in the latter part of the sixteenth century, the natives took great delight in walking early in the morning in the spring season near plantations of this kind of cassia, and regaling themselves with the fragrance of its flowers. To this species, and its numerous congeners, the term cassia, as a generic appellation, is confined by modern botanists." Ency.]

The specific appellation was given by Linnaeus, in conformity with a common custom, of which later discoveries have shewn the impropriety: that of naming a new species of any genus, from the particular place whence it was sent to him. Though the first specimens of Cassia Marilandica were transmitted to Linnaeus from the state of Maryland, the plant is now known to be extremely common in almost every state of the Union, south and westward of New-York. Inappropriate as the specific name is, however, it still does, and always ought to stand, unchanged.

The wild senna [The Cassia Marilandica was introduced into England in 1723, by Peter Collinson, Esq. It flowers there in August and October.] is a beautiful plant. It is about three or four feet high, with stems rising erectly from the root. The root, is perennial, mostly horizontal, but spmetimes perpendicular; contorted, irregularly shaped, woody, black, and covered with a multitude of fibres also of a deep black colour externally, and yellow within. The stems many, often simple, herbaceous, cylindrical, either entirely smooth, or furnished with a few hairs. The leaves are alternate, rather long, green above, and pale underneath. Leaflets in eight pairs, ovate-oblong, equal, and yellow on the margin; a gland at the base of the petioles. Flowers bright orange-yellow, in short axillary racemes, on the upper part of the stem. Legumes three or four inches long, a little curved, mucronate, bordered with conspicuous joints, and a few scattered reddish hairs.

This plant is pretty common from New- York to Carolina; and where met with, is generally abundant. Though it sometimes is found remote from water, it will always, I think, appear on examination, that such situations are exsiccated swamps or meadows. It delights in a low, moist, gravelly or sandy soil, prefering the borders of rivers, creeks, and such watery places, to any other situations; and flowers from the last of June to the last of August.

Medical Properties.

Wild senna is now well known to be a valuable cathartic of the milder class. It is little, if at all inferior, to the senna of the shops;
It appears by the researches of Mon. Hippolite Nectoux, that botanists and writers on the Materia Medica, have hitherto been mistaken in supposing the true senna of the shops, to be the leaves and follicles of the Cassia senna of Linnaeus. This intelligent and industrious inquirer instituted, in Egypt, a series of investigations respecting the senna, which resulted in the singular fact, that Cassia senna, L. which had always been considered as the true senna, is in reality a weed, with which the real senna is adulterated in Egypt, to augment the quantity produced by the annual growth of the other two plants which constitute the senna. As the work of Mons. Nectoux is rare in this country; [The only two copies of this splendid work I believe, which have come to this country, were presented by Mr. Michaux, of Paris; the one to Dr. Hosack, and the other to myself.] and the facts so satisfactorily stated in it, very interesting, I shall here subjoin a brief summary of his discoveries.
Mr. Nectoux informs us that his first object after landing in Egypt, was the senna. The commonly received name of Alexandrian Senna, led him to the expectation of finding it in the vicinity of the city whence the drug takes its name. He did not, however, find it, after a considerable search, either at Alexandria or at Rosetta, Damietta, or Cairo. He informs us that not a stalk of senna grows in the Delta; and that the name Alexandrian, is given, and currently adopted, merely because that city is the entrepot whence it is exported to Europe. At Cairo he saw the process of preparing the senna for the European market. It consists in separating the leaves and follicles from the stalks, and packing them in round bales, weighing in gross weight from 560 to 640 lbs. Here he first observed that there* were different kinds of pods, and that their characters indicated two different species of plants. While at Cairo, a specimen of the growing senna was brought to him by a native, who found it at Bassa-Tine, a village situated at the entrance of the valley of Egarement, and called it Sena-belledy. Belledy is the ten» by which the Egyptians designate their indigenous plants, in contradistinction to exotics, which they denominate araby. In passing through the provinces of Bene-Souef, Fayoum, Minie, Siout, Girgai, and as far as Carnak, he did not meet with any of the species of senna. Around the ruins of Carnak and Luxor he observed some few stalks of the same species of senna that he had received from Bassa-Tine. On entering the valley it was found in great abundance, particularly on the right bank of the Nile, opposite to Hermuntis. The Fellachs or peasants, called it also sena-belledy, or wild senna. It grows naturally with holcus sorghum. The fellachs after gathering in the holcus, make two crops of senna, in which, however, they take no great care.
At Esnech, Mr. Nectoux caused a number of bales of senna to be opened. On inspecting them, he was much surprised to find some of them contained only a species of cynanchum, different from any he had before seen. It was called sena-mekky, senna of Mecque. The cheick who superintended the entrepot at Esnech, told him it was also called arguel; that it possessed the same properties as the senna, and that the guellaps, or slavemerchants, who brought it from the country of Barabras, sold it for senna. By paying a trifle Mr. Nectoux obtained pormission to inspect a number of senna bales, brought in a caravan which arrived at Darao. In some of them he found senna with large beans, which was called by the merchants sena guebelly, senna of the mountains; others contained only arguel; and some a mixture of the two plants. When the sena-belledy was shewn to them, they recognized it by that name, and added, that it was wild or weed senna; and that it occasioned whisks or gripes. They said, as did those at Esnech, that the senna of the mountains and the arguel, were found growing three days 1 ride from Sienne. Mr. Nectoux sought fruitlessly at this place, for some few plants of senna and arguel; but he only discovered the senna of Thebaid. At the island of Phille he offered rewards to those who should shew him the senna; but here, as at Sienne, his exertions proved of no avail. He found only a single stalk of the plant, in the environs of a ruined village. Its appearance was different from that of the senna-belledy, which grew by its side. Upon comparing it with the imperfect specimens he procured at Sienne, and finding the stems and leaves similar, he was confirmed in his discovery of a new plant. After further researches he learned, that the neighbourhood of Sienne, produced senna and arguel in abundance. He met with it in the valley of Darao, and in the vallies among the mountains situated a short distance from the city. He constantly remarked that the antelopes, &c. which browsed on other plants, never touched the arguel or senna.
Mr. Nectoux visited Nubia, which is known in Egypt by the name of the valley or country of Barabras. It is a narrow valley through which the Nile flows. The view is confined on the two sides, alternately, by a lofty chain of granitic mountains. Senna and arguel are the chief productions of this country. They are not the objects of particular cultivation, but grow naturally on the sides of the hills and in the ravines. Each person has the privilege of gathering what grows in his district. Two crops are annually made, the productiveness of which depends on the duration of the rains which fall periodically every year. The first and most fruitful is gathered at the termination of the rains, which commence at the summer solstice, and end in August or the beginning of September. The second crop is gathered in April, and is small. No expense attends the preparation of these plants, which consists in cutting and spreading them on the rocks to dry. This process in that warm climate only occupies a single day. The senna and arguel are put up in small bales, weighing about a quintal each, and are conveved by camels to Sienne and Darao. They are sold for 300 to 340 parats (eleven or twelve francs) each. They are afterwards carried to the farmer general, at Cairo, who purchases them at eleven or twelve pataques (thirty to thirty-three francs) and sold by him to the European factors for thirty or thirty -three pataques (one hundred and six francs) the quintal. Mr. Nectoux was informed on good authority, that the produce of the two crops varies annually, from seven to eleven hundred quintals; one-third of which is arguel. The demand from Europe is generally from fourteen to fifteen-hundred quintals; and never less than twelve. The Egyptian merchants therefore mix from three to four hundred quintals of the sena-belledy, or wild senna (cassia senna of Linnaeus) with that brought from Nubia. This adulteration is made at the entrepots of Kene, D'Esnech, Darao, and Sienne; around which places the senna-belledy grows abundantly. Mr. Nectoux concludes by inviting the attention of his government to the introduction and culture of senna (cassia lanceolata of Lamark), and arguel (cynanchum oleaefolium of Nectoux), in its colonies, with the view to avoid this adulteration.
The following are the descriptions given by Mr. Nectoux of the three different plants known in commerce as senna:
"The senna-belledy, or wild senna, is the cassia senna of Linnaeus, cassia foliis sexjugis subovatis, petiolis eglandulatis. La Casse dTtalie, Lamark, Encyclopedic Method. Botan. p. 646; Sena Italica, sive foliis obtusis, C. B. p. 397; Tourn. 618, Rai. Hist. 1747; Moris. Hist. 2. p. 200, sec. 2. tab. 24, fig. 2; sena, Dod. pempt. S61. lob. ic. p. 88; Sena Italica foliis quinque jugatis cordatis obtusis. Mill. Dict. No. 2; cassia Burman. Flora Indica, p. 96. tab. 23. f. 2.
"The sena-guebelly or sena-mekky, mountain-senna, is the cassia lanceolata Lamark. Encyclopedic Method. Bot. p. 646; cassia lanceolata, foliis quinque jugis; Forskall Flora Egyptiaca, p. 85, No. 58; Sena-Alexandrina sive foliis acutis, Bauh. pin. 397. Moris, Hist. 2. pi. 201 sec. 2. tab. 24. f. i.; Tourn. 608; Rai. Hist. 1742: Mill. Dict. No. 2; Sena B. 377; Sena orientalis, Tabern. Herb. p. 2. f. 220.
"Linnaeus has confounded this plant with Italian senna.
"The arguel, called also Sena-Mekky, though very little is found in the senna which is brought into Egypt by way of Suez, is not described by any author. It is a new species, to which Mr. Nectoux has given the name of Cynanchum Olesefolium. It has all the characters of the genus Cynanchum, but possesses the same medicinal properties as the true senna, and some even say it is preferable as a medicine. It is easily distinguished by its stalk, which supports itself; by its oval-lanceolated leaves, covered with long down, as is also its stem andcalixes; and by its long dichomotous peduncles, bearing at the end of their division, five or six small flowers disposed in an umbel, surrounded with narrow leaflets. It is not climbing as the greater part of the species of this genus are. Its branches are single, flexible, in considerable numbers, and spreading from the stem."
In the manuscript of Lyppi on the Egyptian plants, there is one designated under the name of Asclepias Africana foliis Oleae. It is not accompanied with either a description or drawing; neither does it exist in any herbal. There is of course, some doubt respecting the identity of this and the plant described by Mr. Nectoux.
It has been stated erroneously, that the follicles or beans of senna are not used in Egypt. Mr. Nectoux states that they are found in all the shops of the Egyptian druggists, both mixed with and separate from the leaves.
I have found all the leaves and follicles, as figured by Nectoux, in the senna of our shops, and exhibited them to my class in verification of his observations. The follicles of Cynanchum appear to be most rare.

and is doubtless one of the most important of our indigenous medicines. Professor Hewson of Philadelphia, informed me that he had used it occasionally, and with the same good effect as common senna; and I have had some experience with it in my own practice. At the Marine hospital of the Navy-yard, I have for some months past substituted it for Alexandrian senna, and frequently employed it. I have also, in a single instance, used it in my family. In all these trials I have had reason to confirm the high character of the plant, which it has long maintained. The leaves alone have commonly been used; but I have made use of the dried leaves and follicles, carefully rejecting the leaf-stalks, and beg leave to recommend this manner of employing the plant for medical purposes. I believe the best time for collecting it would be when the pods are ripe, which is about the last of August.

The affinity of wild senna to two of the articles which constitute the senna of commerce, renders it probable, that these foreign plants might be cultivated without difficulty, and with great profit, in our southern states. I have understood that the Alexandrian senna has been cultivated in North Carolina with success.

Since it appears that we do not obtain pure senna from Egypt; and that the adulterating plant, or Cassiasenna is much inferior to our native species, it cannot be doubted, that the cultivation of the Cassia lanceolata, and the Cynanchum Olesefolium, and mixing them with the Cassia Marilandica, would afford a much purer senna than we now use; and at one-fourth the cost of the imported article. These facts and hints are certainly not unworthy the attention of our southern planters and physicians.

Table XII.

Fig. 1. Represents the upper portion of a stalk of the Cassia Marilandica of the natural size.
2. A side view of a flower.
3. A front view of the same.
4. The same, the petals being removed, shewing the calix, stamens, and pistil.
5. A stamen.
6. The pistil.
7. The seed pod. The legumes are often more bow-shaped than this one.

Vegetable Materia Medica of the U.S. or Medical Botany, 1817 (Vol. I), 1818 (Vol. II), was written by William P. C. Barton, M. D.