Senna Leaf

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Chapter: Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry : Drugs Containing Glycosides

Senna leaf consists of the dried leaflets of Cassia acutifolia Delile (C. senna L.) known as Alexandrian senna and of C. angustifolia Vahl., which is commercially known as Tin-nevelly senna. It belong family Leguminosae.






Alexandrian senna, Tinnevelly senna, Folia senna.


Biological Source


Senna leaf consists of the dried leaflets of Cassia acutifolia Delile (C. senna L.) known as Alexandrian senna and of C. angustifolia Vahl., which is commercially known as Tin-nevelly senna. It belong family Leguminosae.


Geographical Source


Alexandrian senna is indigenous to South Africa. It widely grows and sometimes is cultivated in Egypt and in the middle upper territories of Nile river. It is also cultivated in Kordofan and Sennar regions of Sudan. Indian or Tinnevelly senna is indigenous to southern Arabia and cultivated largely in Tinnevelly and Ramnathpuram districts of Tamilnadu. It also grows in Somaliland, Sindh and Punjab region.


Cultivation and Collection


Senna plant is a small shrub of 1–1.5 m height with paripinnate compound leaves. Tinnevelly senna is mostly cultivated in well-ploughed, levelled, rich clayed semiirrigated land sometimes after paddy crop in South India. Propagation is done by seeds which are rubbed with coarse sand and sown thinly by broadcasting or in rows 30 cm apart, first during February–March and second after rain in July. Seeds germinate on the third day. The crop becomes ready for harvesting after about 2 months but first plucking of leaflets is done after 3 months of sowing when the leaves appears mature, thick and bluish in colour. Second plucking is fol-lowed after a month and subsequent pluckings after 4–6 weeks. The plant can survive for two to three years, but it is grown as an annual. After third plucking the plants are uprooted. Plant shows great tolerance for salinity. It some-times shows die-back symptoms in which the branches or shoots die from the tip inward, which is caused by parasites or environmental conditions. Leaflets of Tinnevelly senna are collected by careful plucking from luxuriantly grown plants and compressed into bales.


Alexandrian senna is obtained almost entirely from the wild and sometimes from the cultivated plants. At the stage of fully formed fruits, branches are cut off and rapidly dried in the sun. Pods and large stalks are first separated by using sieves. Leaves separated from stalks are graded into whole leaves, whole and half leaves and shiftings. Whole leaves and shiftings are generally used for making galenical preparations. The leaves are packed loosely in bales for marketing.




Senna leaflets are 3–5 cm long, 2 cm wide and about 0.5 mm thick. It shows acute apex, entire margin and asymmetric base. Outline is lanceolate to ovate lanceolate. Pubescent lamina is found on both the surfaces. Leaves show greyish green colour for Alexandrian senna and yellowish green for Tinnevelly senna. Leaves of Tinnevelly senna are somewhat larger, less broken and firmer in texture than that of Alexandrian senna. Odour of leaves is slight but characteristic and the taste is bitter, mucilagenous. Both the types of leaflets show impression or transverse markings due to the pressing of midrib. Distingushing characters of Alexandrian and Indian senna are given in Table below.


Table : Distinguishing characters of Alexandrian and Indian senna



                 Leaflets and legumes of Cassia angustifolia



Being isobilateral leaf, senna shows more or less similar features at both the surfaces of leaf with few differences. Transverse section of leaf shows upper and lower epidermis with straight wall cells, few of which contain mucilage. Paracytic stomata and nonlignified unicellular trichomes are found on both the surfaces. A single layer of palisade parenchyma is observed at both the sides but it is discontinued in the midrib region of lower epidermis due to the zone of collenchymatous tissues. Palisade is followed by spongy mesophyll which contains cluster crystals of calcium oxalate and vascular strands. Midrib shows the vascular bundle containing xylem and phloem, almost surrounded by lignified pericyclic fibres and a sheath of parenchyma which contains prismatic crystals of calcium oxalate.


                                                                            Transverse section of senna leaf (schematic) 

                                                                             Transverse section of senna leaflet

Chemical Constituents


Senna contains sennosides A and B (2.5%) based on the aglycones sennidin A and B, sennosides C and D which are glycosides of heterodianthrones of aloe-emodin and rhein are present. Others include palmidin A, rhein anthrone and aloe-emodin glycosides. Senna also contains free chryso phanol, emodin and their glycosides and free aloe-emodin, rhein, their monoanthrones, dianthrones and their glycosides. Mucilage is present in the epidermis of the leaf and gives red colour with ruthenium red.


Chemical Test


Borntrager test for anthraquinones: The leaves are boiled with dilute sulphuric acid and filtered. To the filtrate organic solvent like benzene, ether or chloroform is added and shaken. The organic layer is separated, and to it add ammonia solution. The ammoniacal layer produces pink to red colour indicating the presence of anthraquinone glycoside.




Senna leaves are used as laxative. It causes irritation of large intestine and have some griping effect. Thus they are prescribed along with carminatives. Senna is stimulant cathartic and exerts its action by increasing the tone of the smooth muscles in large intestine.




Cassia obovata (Dog Senna): They occur as small pieces with Alexandrian senna but can be easily identified by its obovata shape and obtuse and tapering apex. It has only 1% anthraquinone derivatives. The presence of Cassia auriculata (Palthe senna) can be identified by treating it with 80% sulphuric acid. It gives red colour.


Cassia angustifolia (Bombay or Mecca or Arabian senna) a mild variety of Indian senna have the morphology similar to that of Tinnevelly senna but the leaflets are narrow, more elongated and brownish green in colour. C. marilandica or American Senna, Wild Senna, Poinciana pulcherima, formerly Maryland Senna, is a common perennial from New England to Northern Carolina. Its leaves are compressed into oblong cakes like other herbal preparations of the Shakers. It acts like Senna, but is weaker, and should be combined with aromatics. These leaves are also found mixed with or substituted for Alexandrian Senna. Coriaria myrtifolia is a Mediterranean shrub and highly poisonous, so that it should be recognized when present. The leaves are green, very thin and soft, three veined, ovatelanceolate, and equal at the base. It is also used to adulterate sweet marjoram. Cassia montana yields a false Senna from Madras, partly resembling the Tinnevelly Senna, though the colour of the upper surface of the leaves is browner.


Marketed Products


It is one of the ingredients of the preparations known as Constivac, Softovac (Lupin Herbal Laboratory) and Isova powder, Kultab tablet (Vasu Healthcare).


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