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Senna is an Arabian name, and the drug was first brought into use by the Arabian physicians Serapion and Mesue, and Achiarius was the first of the Greeks to notice it.He recommends not the leaves but the fruit, and Mesue also prefers the pods to the leaves, thinking them more powerful, though they are actually less so, but they do not cause griping.
The leaves of C. acutifolia are collected principally in Nubia. Ignatius Pallme, who travelled much in Africa, wrote:
'Senna is found in abundance in many parts of Kardofan, but the leaves are not collected on account of the existing monopoly. The Government draws its supplies from Dongola in Nubia.'
Two crops are collected annually in Nubia, the more abundant in September, after the rains, the other in April, in dry seasons a very bad one. The plants are cut down, exposed on the rocks in hot sunshine until thoroughly dry, then stripped, and packed in palm-leaf bags, being sent thus on camels to Essouan and Darao, and by the Nile to Cairo, or via Massowah and Suakin on the Red Sea. It is made up at Boulak, near Cairo, under the superintendence of the Egyptian Government, though much adulteration takes place there. The leaves are loosely packed, and as they curl when drying, often present this appearance, while Indian Senna is packed tightly, and the leaves come out flat.
Senna appears to have been cultivated in England about 1640. By keeping the plants in a hot-bed all the summer, they frequently flowered; but rarely perfected their seeds.
The addition of cloves, ginger, cinnamon, or other aromatics are excellent correctives of the nauseous effects. A teaspoonful of cream of tartar to a teacupful of the decoction of infusion of Senna, is a mild and pleasant cathartic, well suited for women if required soon after delivery. Some practitioners add neutral laxative salts, or saccharine and aromatic substances. The purgative effect is increased by the addition of pure bitters; the decoction of guaiacum is said to answer a similar purpose. Senna is contraindicated in an inflammatory condition of the alimentary canal, hemorrhoids, prolapsus ani, etc. The well-known 'black draught' is a combination of Senna and Gentian, with any aromatic, as cardamom or coriander seeds, or the rind of the Seville orange. The term 'black draught,' it is stated, should never be used, as mistakes have been made in reading the prescriptions, and 'black drop' or vinegar of opium has been given instead, several deaths having been caused in this way.
Priest & Priest tell us that it is an " intestinal ganglionic vaso-relaxant. Specific influence upon lower bowel to restrict fluid reabsorption. Excites colicky contractions." They give the following specific indications: to produce rapid catharsis, (tonsillitis, diphtheria, eruptive disease (from constipation), remittent /intermittent fevers, acute hemorrhoids, to ease liver and gall-bladder function)