Senna is a powerful laxative that should not be taken lightly. This woody shrub contains colon-stimulating chemicals known as anthraquinones, which in high doses act as cathartics, or extremely strong laxatives. Both leaves and seedpods are used medicinally, although the pods are milder. Anthraquinones, derived from senna and other herbs, are among the ingredients of many commercial laxatives. The medicinal use of senna dates to ancient civilizations; it was introduced into European medicine by Arab healers in the ninth century. The herb grows primarily in India and Egypt.
Over the counter:
Available in prepared tea bags, syrups and tablets, as well as in the form of dried leaves and seedpods.
Infusion: 1 to 2 tsp. dried leaves per cup of cold water steeped and allowed to sit overnight. Consumed cold. Anise, peppermint, fennel, lemon or a sweetener added to offset bitter taste.
Decoction: Four chopped pods simmered in 1 cup warm water for 5 to 10 minutes.
Tincture: 1/2 to 1 tsp. taken in juice or water once a day in the morning or at night for no more than three days.