Alexandrian senna leaves

Chinese: 番泻叶

Pinyin: Fān Xiè Yè

Parts used: Dried leaves

TCM category: Purgative herbs that drain downward

TCM nature: Cold

TCM taste(s): BitterSweet

Meridian affinity: Large intestine

Scientific name: Senna alexandrina

Other names: Egyptian senna, Tinnevelly senna, East Indian senna or Séné de la palthe

Use of alexandrian senna leaves (Fan Xie Ye) in TCM

Please note that you should never self-prescribe TCM ingredients. A TCM ingredient is almost never eaten on its own but as part of a formula containing several ingredients that act together. Please consult a professional TCM practitionner, they will be best able to guide you.

Preparation: Collect leaves and dry

Dosage: 3-9 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: For constipation and abdominal fullness caused by Heat. Relaxes the bowels and induces urination.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which alexandrian senna leaves may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Constipation Abdominal pain Edema

Contraindications*: This herb should not be used by those with chronic constipation with weakness nor by pregnant, menstruating or post-partum women.

Common TCM formulas in which alexandrian senna leaves are used*:

  • For constipation and abdominal fullness caused by Heat combine alexandrian senna leaves with tangerine peel (Chen Pi).

Key TCM concepts behind alexandrian senna leaves (Fan Xie Ye)'s properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), alexandrian senna leaves are plants that belong to the 'Purgative herbs that drain downward' category. The herbs in this category are those whose main purpose is to treat constipation. The fact they're 'purgative' means that they do so by removing excess Heat in the Intestines and/or Stomach. As such all herbs in this category are Cold in nature, in order to cool the Heat.

Furthermore alexandrian senna leaves are plants that are Cold in nature. This means that alexandrian senna leaves typically help people who have too much "heat" in their body. Balance between Yin and Yang is a key health concept in TCM. Those who have too much heat in their body are said to either have a Yang excess (because Yang is Hot in nature) or a Yin deficiency (Yin is Cold in Nature). Depending on your condition alexandrian senna leaves can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Alexandrian senna leaves also taste Bitter and Sweet. The so-called "five elements" theory in Chinese Medicine states that the taste of TCM ingredients is a key determinant of their action in the body. Bitter ingredients like alexandrian senna leaves tend to have a cleansing action on the body by clearing heat, drying dampness and promoting elimination via urination or bowel movements. On the other hand Sweet ingredients tend to slow down acute reactions and detoxify the body. They also have a tonic effect because they replenish Qi and Blood.

The tastes of ingredients in TCM also determine what organs and meridians they target. As such alexandrian senna leaves are thought to target the Large intestine. In TCM the Large Intestine receives the "impure" parts of the digested food from the Small Intestine, absorbs the remaining fluids and excrete the remainder as feces.

Research on alexandrian senna leaves (Fan Xie Ye)

Senna was found to be an effective and safe laxative when tested on geriatric patients.1

Sources:

1. Kinnunen, O; Winblad, I; Koistinen, P; Salokannel, J (October 1993), "Safety and efficacy of a bulk laxative containing senna versus lactulose in the treatment of chronic constipation in geriatric patients", Pharmacology, 47 Suppl 1: 253–5, doi:10.1159/000139866