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Senna is a flowering plant native throughout the tropics. Cassia gum can be extracted from the seeds of senna, and its leaves are used in Southeast Asia as flavourers for foods.

Senna is used in different remedies in the Pharmacopeia, and the Compendium lists it as an aperient and a purgative. The Black Draught (an effective purgative) is made by combining senna and Epsom salts, along with other ingredients to mask the bitterness. Senna is commonly used in cases of gout, cholera, suppression of the menses, and piles.

British Pharmacopoeia 1867

Alexandrian Senna Senna Alexandrina

“The leaflets of Cassia lanceolata… and Cassia obovata… Imported from Alexandria; carefully freed from the flowers, pods, and leafstalks of the same and from the leaves, flowers, and fruit of Solenostemma Argel.” [1]


“Lanceolate or obovate leaflets, about an inch long, unequally oblique at the base, brittle, greyish-green, of a faint peculiar odour, and mucilaginous sweetish taste. The uniquely oblique base, and freedom from bitterness, distinguish the Senna from the Argel leaves, which moreover are thicker and stiffer.” Used in preparations of:[2]

  • Confectio Sennae
  • Infusum Sennae
  • Mistura Sennae composita
  • Syrupus Sennae
  • Tinctura Sennae

Tinnivelly Senna Senna Indica

“The leaflets of Cassia elongate… From plants cultivated in Southern India.” [3]


“About two inches long, lanceolate, acute, unequally oblique at the base, flexible, entire, green, without any admixture; odour and taste those of Alexandrian Senna… May be used in place of Alexandrian Senna.” [4]

Preparations of Senna

Confection of Senna / Confectio Sennae[5]

  • senna, in fine powder (7 pz), coriander fruit, in fine powder (3 oz), figs (12 oz), tamarind (9 oz), cassia pulp (9 oz), prunes (6 oz), extract of liquorice (3/4 oz), refined sugar (30 oz), distilled water (as needed)
  • dose: 60-120 grains

Infusion of Senna / Infusum Sennae [6]

  • Senna (1 oz), ginger, sliced (30 grains), boiling distilled water (10 fl oz)
  • dose: 1-2 fl oz
  • used in preparations of: Mistura Sennae compostia

Compound Mixture of Senna / Mistura Sennae composita [7]

  • Sulphate of magnesia (4 oz), extrct of liquorice (1/2 oz), tincture of Senna (2 ½ fl oz), Compound tincture of cardamoms (10 fl drachms), infusion of senna (as needed)
  • dose: 1-1 ½ fl oz

Syrup of Senna / Syrupus Sennae [8]

  • Senna, broken small (16 oz), oil of coriander (3 minims), refined sugar (24 oz), distilled water (5 pints, or as needed), rectified spirit (2 fl oz)
  • dose: 1-4 fl drachms

Tincture of Senna / Tinctura Sennae [9]

  • Senna, broken small (2 ½ oz), raisins, freed from seeds (2 oz), caraway fruit, bruised (1/2 oz), coriander fruit, bruised (1/2 oz), proof spirit (1 pint)
  • 1-4 fl drachms
  • used in the preparations of: Mistura Sennae composita

A Compendium of Domestic Medicine, 1865

Classified as a Aperient and Purgative [10]

Senna is used primarily as a purgative, “there being scarcely any disease in which it cannot be administered.” Its taste is disagreeable, and requires masking, especially when being administered to children. Black draught (a celebrated remedy” is made by combining an infusion of senna, a tincture of senna, and Epsom salts (Savory’s recipe includes cinnamon water. Presumably to mask the taste).[11]

Senna can be used when treat lead poisoning[12]

Remedies Containing or to be used with Senna

  • Baume de Vie: combined with tincture senna to increase purgative qualities[13]
  • Calomel: can be combined with senna, or senna can be used following the administration of calomel. Both a tincture of senna and a tincture of senna are included in a draught to be taken in the morning after, after a pill of calomel had been taken at night[14]
  • Essence of Senna, Concentrated: used to make “the black dose” when diluted and combined with Epsom salts[15]
  • India Pink: combined with senna (the leaves) to expel worms after they had been killed with earlier treatments[16]
  • Infusions, Concentrated of cloves, calumbo, cascarilla, chamomile, gentian, orange peel, quassia, rhubarb, roses, and senna: used often in medicine chests as they can be diluted to form infusions. This allows for large doses to be provided in smaller amounts.[17]
  • Jalap: can be combined with senna or “other remedies of the same class” (purgatives). Infusion of senna and a tincture of senna are included in a draught used to evacuate “the bowels of school-boys who have over-indulged themselves in eating.” Senna (confection of) is also included in an electuary used in treating dropsy.[18]
  • Manna: commonly combined with senna and other purgatives, an infusion of senna is used in a mild purgative mixture.[19]
  • Senna Leaves: see def Used in “Senna Mixtture” (infusion of senna), and “Black Draught”[20]
  • Senna Powder, Compound: not commonly used as it is “bulky and inconvenient,” but when used acts as a cathartic and hydragouge[21]
  • Soluble Tartar: infusion of senna is used in an aperient mixture primarily given to children, and infusion of senna and tincture of senna are included in “An Aperient Draught”[22]
  • Sulphur, Sublimed: confection of senna is included in “An Electuary for Piles” and a recipe for another electary[23]
  • Syrup of Senna Cordial: used for the same purposes as senna, just in a more concentrated form. Can be diluted to form an “active and pleasant aperient” for adults.[24]
  • Tamarinds: usually combined with senna, rhubarb, or another type of neutral salt. They form a weak laxative.[25]
  • Tincture of Jalap: taken with an infusion of senna to increase its activity[26]
  • Tincture of Senna: used as a carminative and an aperient[27]
  • Tincture of Senna, Compound: similar to Daffy’s Elixir, and is used to treat flatulence and colics[28]

Diseases Treated with Senna

General Diseases

  • Cholera Morbus: senna-tea in the morning is used in treatment and according to Savory “will most probably effect a cure”[29]
  • Gout: an infusion of senna is included in a mixture recommended by Dr. Copland. Infusion of senna and a tincture of senna are also included in a draught that is to be taken in the morning, following a course of treatment the night before.[30]
  • Menstruation Suppression of the Menses: an infusion of senna and gentian is combined with myrrh, and used as a purgative [31]
  • Piles, or Haemorrhoids: confection of senna is to be taken in a mixture of milk of sulphur, confection of cassia, and simple syrup.[32]

Medical Articles Containing Senna

  • Infusion of Senna, or Senna-Tea: senna leaves[33]
  • Decoction of Senna with Tamarinds: senna leaves[34]
  • Abernethy’s Aperient Mixture: infusion of senna, tincture of senna[35]

Prescriptions Containing Senna

Aperients and Cathartics

  • Aperient Mixture: Infusion of senna, “this mixture may be given to children whose bowels are costive from some error of diet, or other accidental circumstance.”[36]
  • Aperient Mixture (Another): Infusion of senna, “a very efficient and general purgative”[37]
  • Aperient Mixture (Another): Infusion of senna, purgative used in febrile complaints[38]
  • Aperient Mixture (Another): Senna leaves[39]
  • Aperient Draught: infusion of senna, taken when experiencing colic from lead[40]
  • The Common Black Draught: infusion of senna, tincture of senna (flavoured with compound spirit of lavender)[41]
  • Cathartic Electuary: confection of senna[42]
  • Cathartic Draught: infusion of senna, tincture of senna, syrup of senna, used to treat dyspeptic costiveness [43]
  • Manna Draught (336/315): infusion of senna[44]


  • Saline Aperient: syrup of senna[45]


  1. General Medical Council of Great Britain, British Pharmacopeia, (London: Spottiswoode & Co.,1867), 281
  2. GMCGB, 281
  3. GMCGB, 281
  4. GMCGB, 282
  5. GMCGB, 89
  6. GMCGB, 164
  7. GMCGB, 212
  8. GMCGB, 315
  9. GMCGB, 341-42
  10. Savory, John. A Compendium of Domestic Medicine (London: John Churchill and Sons, 1865), 390 .
  11. Savory, 133
  12. Savory, 178
  13. Savory, 30
  14. Savory, 35
  15. Savory, 58
  16. Savory, 84
  17. Savory, 84
  18. Savory, 88
  19. Savory, 101
  20. Savory, 133
  21. Savory, 124
  22. Savory, 137-38
  23. Savory, 147
  24. Savory, 150
  25. Savory, 151
  26. Savory, 160
  27. Savory, 162
  28. Savory, 163
  29. Savory, 221
  30. Savory, 234
  31. Savory, 247
  32. Savory, 248
  33. Savory, 291
  34. Savory, 293
  35. Savory, 301
  36. Savory, 311
  37. Savory, 311
  38. Savory, 311
  39. Savory, 311
  40. Savory, 312
  41. Savory, 312
  42. Savory, 314
  43. Savory, 314
  44. Savory, 315
  45. Savory, 333

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