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Senna obtusifolia, the Chinese senna, American sicklepod or sicklepod, is a plant in the genus Senna, sometimes separated in the monotypic genus Diallobus. It grows wild in North, Central, and South America, Asia, Africa, and Oceania, and is considered a particularly serious weed in many places. It has a long-standing history of confusion with Senna tora and that taxon in many sources actually refers to the present species.
The green leaves of the plant are fermented to produce a high-protein food product called "kawal" which is eaten by many people in Sudan as a meat substitute. Its leaves, seeds, and root are also used in folk medicine, primarily in Asia. It is believed to possess a laxative effect, as well as to be beneficial for the eyes. As a folk remedy, the seeds are often roasted, then boiled in water to produce a tea. The plant's seeds are a commercial source of cassia gum, a food additive usually used as a thickener and named for the Chinese Senna's former placement in the genus Cassia. Roasted and ground, the seeds have also been used as a substitute for coffee.
Names, taxonomy and identifier
or , and somewhat ambiguously as "blunt-leaved senna", "coffee pod" or "java bean"--> Apart from "sicklepod", or rarely "Chinese senna" and arsenic weed, S. obtusifolia mayb be known locally by the common names "coffee weed" (coffeeweed) or "java bean" (Australia) or "coffee pod" (American South or West), although the terms "coffee weed" or "coffee pod" are ambiguous as they also apply to S. tora. It may be called by the Hindi name "chakunda" in India, but this is also one of the names for S. tora.
Names in its native range are also:
- Chinese: pinyin: jué míng zi (simplified Chinese: 决明子; traditional Chinese: 決明子)
- Japanese: ebisu-gusa ("Ebisu grass": エビスグサ; 胡草; 恵比須草)
- Korean: gyeolmyeongja (hangul: 결명자; hanja: 決明子)
- Vietnamese: quyết minh tử (from Hán tự: 決明子)
- Portuguese: fedegoso (also used for Senna macranthera and others)
- Hindi: chirauta chokad
This section needs additional citations for verification. (April 2010)
Chinese senna has been treated under a wide range of scientific names. Some are synonyms of Senna obtusifolia, others are names that have been applied to it in error. In addition, several of these names may also refer to related plants. In particular, the distinction between this species and Senna tora was fraught with errors and misunderstandings:
- Cassia humilis Collad.
- Cassia humilis Steud. is a synonym of Chamaecrista kunthiana
- Cassia numilis Collad. is apparently a misprint and refers to Senna tora
- Cassia obtusifolia L.
- Cassia tora auct. non L.
- Cassia tora L. is a synonym of Senna tora
- Cassia tora L. var. b Wight & Arn.
- Cassia tora L. var. humilis (Collad.) Collad.
- Cassia tora L. var. obtusifolia (L.) Haines
- Cassia toroides Raf.
- Cassia toroides Roxb.
- Diallobus falcatus Raf.
- Diallobus uniflorus Raf.
- Senna toroides Roxb.
Traditional Eastern medicine
The materia medica name for the seeds in Chinese is jué míng zǐ (simplified: 决明子; traditional: 決明子). The medicinal seeds are also known by the equivalent Korean name gyeolmyeongja (결명자; 決明子) in traditional Korean medicine, and by the Japanese name ketsumei-shi (ケツメイシ, 決明子) in kampō medicine.
The jue ming zi is used widely in Asia, including Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, and its herbal tea is drunk instead of regular tea as a preventative for hypertension. It is also purported to have the ability to clear the eye. In Korea also, medicinal gyeolmyeongja is usually prepared as tea (gyeolmyeongja-cha. ‘sickle pod tea’).
Senna tora (Cassia tora) is used similarly, and though distinguished in the Chinese market as the "little/lesser" variety or shao jue ming 小決明) the Japanese government's [pharmacopoeia] (Nihon yakkyokuhō) officially acknowledges both S. obtusifolia and S. tora to be commerced as ketsumeishi.
The Japanese beverage habu-cha (ハブ茶), as the name suggests, was originally brewed from the seeds of the habusō or S. occidentalis, but currently marketed habu-cha uses S. obtusifolia as substitute, since it is a higher-yielding crop.
Kawal, a protein-rich meat substitute eaten in Sudan, is produced by crushing the leaves of the plant into a paste which is then traditionally fermented in an earthenware jar, buried in a cool place. The jar is dug up every three days and the contents mixed. After two weeks, the paste is removed and rolled into balls which are left to dry in the sun. They are usually cooked in stews with onions and okra.
- Sicklepod tea
- Chamaecrista nomame - Chamaecrista sp. (Japanese: kawaraketsumei lit. ‘riverside sicklepod’)
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