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The Benefits and Side Effects of Senna Leaf Tea

Updated on March 24, 2013
Senna tea is an ancient global remedy for constipation.
Senna tea is an ancient global remedy for constipation. | Source

Senna tea, or senna leaf tea as it is sometimes known, has been used for centuries to treat constipation. Though it is most commonly used as a laxative, recently it has been getting a great deal of attention from dieters who believe that drinker senna tea will help them slim down and lose weight. While there are are some excellent medicinal qualities to senna leaves, there are also some serious side effects to this powerful herb.


Senna refers to a genus of approximately 250 species of perennials, shrubs, and trees growing in various parts of the world. Senna alexandrina grows in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, China and parts of Africa - namely Saudi Arabia, Djibouti and Somalia. Senna was introduced to Europe by Arabian physicians somewhere around the ninth or tenth century as a laxative. It is also sometimes known by the names Alexandrian senna or Tinnevelly senna. Senna marilandica grows wild throughout the midwestern United States and is a much hardier version of senna. Native Americans also used it as a laxative.

Benefits of Senna Tea

While senna tea has been mainly used as a natural stool softener and home remedy for constipation, different species have various other medicinal qualities. Infusions are made by steeping leaves or in some cases the black pulp of branches to make medicinal teas. Alexandrian senna has been used for hundreds of years as a laxative, and is still the primary ingredient in many commercially prepared laxatives. When made as a herbal tea, senna leaves are often accompanied by coriander to reduce stomach cramping or griping. Senna tea has a sweet taste and a pleasant aroma. In some parts of the world, senna leaf tea is simply enjoyed as a flavorful alternative to hot coffee or tea. These teas are made with a milder species of senna than the senna alexandrina used as a laxative.

(click column header to sort results)
Species of Senna Leaf  
Medical Condition Treated  
alata
ringworm
obtusifolia
ringworm
sophera
ringworm
sieberiana
venereal disease
obtusifolia
hypertension, high cholesterol, constipation,skin diseases, eye disorders
surattensis
venereal disease
reticulata
bacterial and fungal infections
fistula
mild treatment for constipation
marilandica
mild treatment for constipation
alexandrina
strong treatment for constipation
Senna leaf tea is used for a variety of ailments.
Dried senna alexandrina commonly prescribed for constipation.
Dried senna alexandrina commonly prescribed for constipation. | Source
Senna leaves are brewed into a robust tea, explaining the nickname "Coffeeweed."
Senna leaves are brewed into a robust tea, explaining the nickname "Coffeeweed." | Source

Dangers of Using Senna Tea

Too frequently people assume that because something is "all-natural" or made without chemicals it is safe to use as desired. It is also human nature to believe that because an item is for sale in a retail store such as a health food store or natural remedy website, it is safe to use. Herbal remedies have been prescribed through the ages by experienced herbalists and practitioners of natural medicine, and patients would be warned of side effects and the dangers of interacting herbs. Now that herbal teas and supplements are so easily accessible to anyone online or in a retail store, it is imperative to understand exactly what is contained in the natural remedy you are considering. Senna is an excellent example of how the powerful properties of some herbal remedies can make the users seriously ill, or even cause death. Senna goes to work fast - it can cause bowel movements that are quick and violent. Senna leaves can interact with commonly prescribed medication for diuretics (to induce urination) and many heart medications. It can also have a negative reaction when taken with over-the-counter medication such as Tylenol or milk of magnesia, and other herbs such as aloe vera or rhubarb. This is especially concerning given the number of people experimenting with "senna slimming tea" for it's laxative and appetite suppressing properties, or for those who are drinking excessive quantities of the tea as part of a colon cleanse. Excess or frequent drinking of senna leaf tea can cause the following:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • abdominal pain, cramping, or griping
  • inflammation of the gastro-intestinal tract
  • deterioration in bowel function
  • rounding or clubbing of fingers and toes
  • damage to the colon
  • can be addictive - there IS such a thing as laxative dependency which occurs in individuals with eating disorders.

Senna leaf tea is NOT safe for pregnant women or nursing mothers, or people with hemorrhoids, ulcers, colitis or spastic constipation. It should only be taken in consultation with an experienced herbalist or naturopath.

Would you recommend senna tea to friends or family?

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If You Buy Senna Tea

If you are planning to purchase senna leaf tea, consider that there isn't a standard requirement for the potency or species of senna used - there isn't a government regulation in Canada or the United States requiring the disclosure of this information on the packaging. Unless you are comfortable with your own research into the brand or it is recommended by your health practitioner, please exercise caution when purchasing senna tea. Begin with a very small dose of the tea to determine your body's reaction to it. Do not continue taking senna leaf tea for more than one week at a time. Should you experience extreme stomach cramping or numbness or swelling of the mouth, tongue or lips seek medical attention immediately.

Comments

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    • profile image

      sue 4 years ago

      I was just about to purchase a senna based tea for dieting. Your article has changed my mind. I have bowel issues and artery Problems and this tea would have probably Caused me serious harm or even death

    • profile image

      Glynis 7 years ago

      When I was little I remember Grandpa Peter taking Senna Tea sometimes.

    • Avamum profile image
      Author

      Sarita Harbour 7 years ago from Yellowknife, Canada

      Thank you, Simone - I really enjoyed researching this!

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 7 years ago from San Francisco

      Great Hub! The table is quite helpful, and I appreciate your balanced approach.

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