What is Cassia Tea?

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Cassia tea, also known as senna tea, is often associated with weight loss. But as with all products that claim to be able to help you drop pounds and inches off your waistline, it’s never a bad idea to get the full truth before giving it a try. So what’s the deal with cassia tea?

With cassia tea, you’ll want to tread lightly. That’s because, when consumed, the senna plant has a very powerful laxative effect. While this can result in weight loss, it is only a short-term side effect and the weight will return once the body is properly hydrated once more.

That’s not to say that cassia tea doesn’t have its uses as an herbal remedy. However, it is important to have all the facts before deciding whether or not it may be right for you.

The cassia plant

Before we get into cassia tea, let’s explore its origins. As with other teas, cassia tea is derived from a plant, most commonly Cassia angustifoliaCassia acutifolia, and Cassia senna, also known as Senna alexandrina.

The plants require specific conditions to thrive. Specifically, they enjoy a mostly dry environment and can be found in certain areas of Sudan, Egypt, and India.

The origin of the plant’s name gives us somewhat of a sense of what it looks like. The word cassia comes from the Greek word for “aromatic shrub” and the word senna can be traced back to the Arabic term for “thorny bush.” But that doesn’t give us the full picture. The plants feature blue-green leaves and yellow flowers, making them pleasant to look at.

The history of cassia

The history of cassia and its use is actually quite contested. It is thought that the trade of senna can be traced to 1st or 2nd-century Roman times and it has even been suggested that ancient Egyptians used cassia medicinally as far back as 3150 BCE, though the evidence on this has yet to be entirely accepted.

What we do know is that the first documentation of cassia as a laxative dates back to Arabia in the 9th century. It was Arabian physicians who would ultimately help to spread the medicinal use of senna to Europe and beyond hundreds of years later, with the medicinal use of senna being documented in the United States in 1820. To this day, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies senna as a safe and effective active ingredient for over-the-counter laxatives.

Uses for cassia tea

Now that we know a bit more about cassia itself, its use in tea form can be more clearly understood. Because of its well-documented laxative effect, cassia tea is not something anyone should be drinking regularly, and it’s certainly not a tea for casual enjoyment. Senna serves one purpose: to induce bowel movement.

And while senna is classified as safe and effective by the FDA, it should still be consumed responsibly. Short-term use–after consulting a medical professional–can be an effective remedy to relieve constipation. It is long-term use, usually, for weight loss, that can have serious consequences.

Even short-term use can cause abdominal discomfort and dehydration. When consumed for long periods of time, cassia tea can damage your colon and liver.

How senna tea works

One particular component from the senna leaf is responsible for the plant’s laxative effect: sennosides. Because they can’t be absorbed by our bodies, they are instead broken down by our gut bacteria. It is this breakdown of sennosides that gets things moving.

The cells in the colon become irritated by this breakdown, which stimulates the bowels. Because it is a mild irritation, a bowel movement can be expected in about 6-12 hours.

Other considerations for drinking cassia tea

It is always recommended that you consult with a healthcare professional before trying a new medication or remedy for any medical issue. With that in mind, those with certain existing health issues will want to take extra caution before trying cassia tea, including those with:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Liver disease
  • Heart disease

Or taking the following medications:

  • Heart medications
  • Blood thinners
  • Diuretics
  • Steroids

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should also take precautions prior to trying senna tea.

How to prepare senna tea

To make your own senna tea, all you’ll need is 1-2 grams of dried senna leaves and some hot water. Steep the leaves in hot water for about 10 minutes and sweeten, if desired. This preparation should not be consumed more than twice a day, for no more than seven days in a row.

Senna tea blends

If you have a hard time finding dried senna leaves or don’t care to make senna tea from scratch, there are several tea blends that include senna available on the market. Teas marketed to relieve occasional constipation or sometimes as a detox tea can be found in big box stores, online retailers, and in local specialty stores. Just make sure it lists senna as an ingredient to know for sure that you’re purchasing a senna tea blend.

Alternatives to cassia tea

If you’re unable to find senna leaves or tea, or you’re interested in trying something else, there are other herbal remedies known to relieve constipation. 

Buckthorn (Cascara sagrada)

Similar to senna, buckthorn irritates the colon just enough to induce a bowel movement. Buckthorn is derived from the bark extract of the buckthorn tree.

Slippery elm

Slippery elm is an herb that helps to increase mucus production in the GI tract by stimulating the nerves. This mucus production helps move the bowels along.

Psyllium

Psyllium works differently than senna as a laxative. This natural fiber works as a bulk-forming laxative, which is how many over-the-counter constipation relief products work as well. Bulk-forming laxatives are typically used long-term to treat chronic constipation related to a number of causes and conditions.

Conclusion

Senna tea certainly has its uses and when consumed responsibly, it can help to relieve the discomfort of constipation. The bottom line here is that it should be used for short periods of time only, and never for weight loss.