Cassia alata L. or senna is a shrub, 2-3m high, widely distributed in the tropical countries.It is native to South America, but has been planted widely for medicinal and ornamental purposes and is now pantropical. In many countries, including most countries of tropical Africa, it has become naturalized and is often considered a weed.

It is is known as ringworm shrub, winged Senna, candle tree or ringworm Cassia, owing to its traditional use of the juice from fresh leaves or as leaf decoction against ringworm, eczema, pruritis, itching, scabies, ulcers and others skin diseases.

Cassia alata leaves are used in Africa for the same properties. The flowers are used in bronchitis, asthma and other respiratory ailments. Other uses of Cassia alata are as an antihelminthic, antibacterial, laxative, diuretic, for uterine disorders. In Africa, cassia is also used for digestive complaints such diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, gastritis and heartburn.   

Other investigations revealed that water extract from Cassia alata leaves contained potential antifungal agents against C. albicans and antibacterial agents against E. coli, for the treatment of opportunistic infections in patients afflicted with (AIDS). These results were comparable to commercial antifungal drug amphotericin B and antibiotic chlorampenicol.

The leaf extracts also exhibit various pharmacological properties: antimicrobial, anti-fungal activities as well as anti-inflammatory effects. The therapeutic efficacy of Cassia alata leaf extract against Pityriasis versicoloriias been reported and finally the anti-aging effect of Cassia alata was demonstrated allowing the use of extracts of Cassia alata in cosmetic and/or dermatological skin care products.

The main medicinal uses of Senna alata are as a laxative or purgative and in the treatment of skin problems. For laxative purposes usually a decoction of the leaves is drunk, and less often the flowers, roots or the stem are used.

Skin problems treated with Senna alata include ringworm, favus and other mycoses, impetigo, syphilis sores, psoriasis, herpes, chronic lichen planus, scabies, shingles, eczema, rash and itching. Skin problems are most often treated by applying leaf sap or by rubbing fresh leaves on the skin.

Other ailments treated in tropical Africa with Senna alata include stomach pain during pregnancy, dysentery, hemorrhoids, blood in the urine (schistosomiasis, gonorrhoea), convulsions, heart failure, edema, jaundice, headache, hernia, one-sided weakness or paralysis. Decoctions of the wood are used to treat liver problems (jaundice), urticaria, rhinitis, and loss of appetite caused by gastro-intestinal problems.

From the leaves of Senna alata a number of anthraquinone derivatives have been isolated. Crude leaf extracts have shown antibacterial activity against a range of bacteria. Antifungal properties and antitumour activity have been confirmed by tests. The bark of Senna alata contains tannins. The petals contain anthraquinones, glycosides, steroids, tannins and volatile oil. Extracts of the petals have bactericidal activity against gram-positive bacteria but not against gram-negative bacteria.

Bosch, C.H., 2007. Senna alata (L.) Roxb. [Internet] Record from Protabase. Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands.