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Wild Senna

Image of Wild Senna
This image of senna comes from Leonhart Fuchs’s De historia stirpium commentarii insigne written in 1542. This book is available in the John R. Martin Rare Book Room in Hardin Library for the Health Sciences.

Wild Senna (Cassia hebecarpa)

Cassia hebecarpa is an herbaceous perennial legume that can grow as tall as 6 feet. It grows in the eastern part of North America, from Ontario to Georgia. It is mostly found in areas with moist soils, but it can also occasionally be found in drier locations. Senna varieties are found all over the world, but many of their medicinal properties are similar. Several Senna species are widely used as laxatives, both historically and in modern medicine, due to the presence of compounds called anthraquinones (Belt, 2002). The laxative effect is derived from the leaves or fruit pods of the plant. In traditional medicines, Senna is used as a tea, an extract, or syrup. Modern uses provide the extract in pill form. (Cirillo & Capasso, 2015) 

Historical Use 

Historical information on the use of senna can be found in Nicholas Culpeper’s English Physician; and Complete Herbal written in 1789.  The leaves of Senna (usually the Senna alexandrina/Cassia senna variety) were used as a laxative and emetic. It was also thought to cleanse the body and blood by purging “obstructions,” melancholy, and phlegm. Jacob Bigelow’s American Medical Botany highlights Cassia marilandica, a close cousin of Cassia hebecarpa. Although demonstrating similar medicinal virtues to that of Senna alexandrinaCassia marilandica required a third more to have the same effect. Thus, Senna alexandrina was preferred and imported to America. 

This image of senna comes from Leonhart Fuchs’s De historia stirpium commentarii insigne written in 1542. 

Latest Research


Belt, S. (2002). Wild Senna Plant Guide. Retrieved from 

Cirillo, C., & Capasso, R. (2015). Constipation and Botanical Medicines: An Overview. Phytother Res, 29(10), 1488-1493. doi:10.1002/ptr.5410 

Other Resources

Natural Medicines record: Senna (Access to UI only)