Natural Health Tips

Ibn al-Qayyim: Senna is An Excellent Medicine

Ibn al-Qayyim described the plant senna as an excellent medicine in his work on Prophetic Medicine. He said that senna was beneficial for:

  • Constipation;
  • Treatment of angina and strengthening the heart;
  • Cracking of the skin;
  • Relaxing muscle tension;
  • Helping hair growth;
  • Treatment of lice, scabies and itching;
  • Migraines.
Ibn al-Qayyim suggested that it was preferable to boil and cook the senna leaves and drink their water, instead of taking it as a powdered form.

He said that when used as a laxative, senna should be mixed with honey and fat, as this was more beneficial than taking it on its own.

What Is senna?

Senna (botanical name Cassia angustifolia) is a plant best known for its medicinal properties. It comprises of dianthrone glycosides (compounds consisting of sugar molecules bound to other molecules), as well as mucilage (a thick, gluey substance), tannins and flavonoids.

In addition to its use as a safe and effective laxative, senna also has many other health benefits. One of the glycosides present in senna, emodin has many therapeutic benefits including as an anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, and the ability to inhibit or destroy viruses. These compounds have also shown to be effective in stimulating cellular regeneration, and detoxifying and cleansing.

Senna is the active ingredient in many commercial laxatives. However, these laxatives also contain artificial sweeteners and should therefore be avoided. More natural, undiluted forms of senna are available at some health-food stores and it is also available in supplements and liquid extract form.

However, senna should not be used for prolonged periods of time as studies indicate that this can cause toxicity and increase the risk of colon cancer. Other negative effects include laxative dependency, and inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Chronic or prolonged constipation should be treated by dietary changes such as increasing fiber in the diet.

References for further reading

  • Dreessen M, Eyssen H, and Lemli J. 1981. The metabolism of sennosides A and B by the intestinal microflora: in vitro and in vivo studies on rat and mouse. J Pharm Pharmacol 33: 678-681.

  • Driscoll JS, Hazard JrHB, Wood Jr, and Goldin A. 1974. Structure-antitumor activity relationships among quinone derivatives. Cancer Chem Rep, Part 2 4: 1-27.

  • van Gorkom BA, Karrenbeld A, van Der Sluis T, Koudstaal J, de Vries EG, Kleibeuker JH. 2000. Influence of a highly purified senna extract on colonic epithelium. digestion. 2000; 61(2): 113-20.

  • Wichtl M (ed). 1994. Sennae folium - senna Leaf (English translation by Norman Grainger Bisset). In Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals. CRC Press, Stuttgart, pp. 463-466.

  • Yagi T, Yamauchi K, and Kuwano S. 1997. The synergistic purgative action of aloe-emodin anthrone and rhein anthrone in mice: synergism in large intestinal propulsion and water secretion. J Pharm Pharmacol 49: 22-25.