The Plant

Botanical name:               Cassia Acutifolia (DELL.)
Family:                                N.O. Leguminosae
Trade Name:                     Senna
Synonyms:                        Cassia Lenitiva,  Cassia Lanceolata, Cassia Angustifolia, Senna Acutifolia, Sene de la Palthe, Fan Xie Ye, Alexandrian Senna,                                               Tinnevelly Senna, East Indian Senna
Habitat:                               India, Pakistan and few other parts of Asia

Senna is a small under-shrub, 2 to 3 feet high. the stem is erect, smooth, and pale green, with long, spreading branches, bearing pinnate leaves which are alternately placed on the stem. The leaflets are in pairs of four or five and average about half to inch in length. The shape of the leaves and leaflets is lanceolate or obovate, unequally oblique at the base, veins distinct on the under surface, brittle, greyish-green, of a faint, peculiar odour, and mucilaginous, sweetish taste. The flowers are small and yellow. The pods are broadly oblong, and contain about six seeds which are hard, heart shaped and ash colored.

Almost every part of the Senna plant contains the main active ingredient – sennoside, and therefore all of them have some commercial value.

It is the dried leaves and pods that are mostly traded, as they have the highest sennoside content and are therefore consumed both directly by end customers as well as by companies manufacturing Senna products and extracting sennoside. Because of this these two command the highest price amongst all the plant parts. Stems are used only in extraction process, while there are few takers for flowers.

Cultivation and Preparation

Since senna is an herb of economic importance its cultivation has been of considerable interest.

It is usually cultivated on dry land and may be given light irrigation and grown as a semi-irrigated crop but heavy irrigation is injurious. Sowing is done either by broadcasting or by dribbling. The plants require bright sunshine and occasional drizzle. Continuous rain during growth spoils the quality of the leaves. The plants are usually allowed to grow for three to five months and when the leaves are fully grown, they are stripped off by hand.

In all, a total of 4 harvestings can take place. The first one being sometime in the end October-early November and is the biggest in size. After that harvesting takes place at a gap of about 1 month each, last one being in April and before the onset of monsoons or the rainy season. Thereafter, the plant is allowed to flower and set seed for the next season. With each succeeding harvest the size of leaves gets smaller and the yield of pods gets lower.

Goods are prepared for use by garbling, or picking out the leaflets and rejecting the lead-stalks and impurities by using sieves. The portion that passes through the sieves is then tossed. The leaves work to the surface and the heavier stalk fragments sink to the bottom. This accounts for the broken leaves in finished goods. These are then normally baled for shipping.

Indian Senna is considered to be a superior variety.

Good quality Senna may be known by:
• The bright, fresh, grayish / bluish-deep green color of the leaves
• A faint and peculiar odour rather like green tea
• A nauseous, mucilaginous, sweetish, slightly bitter taste

Normally no chemical fertilizers or agri-pesticides are used. It can therefore even be considered as a natural, “organically” grown crop.

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