scientific name: Cassia alata
other common names: Date, candle tree, ringworm cassia
growing areas: Widely available in the tropics; said to be native to the West Indies, as well as southern Mexico and parts of South America
physical description: It is a shrub that can grow up to 12 feet high. It has yellow flowers that grow in clusters and are said to resemble candles because of the way they stand.
traditional uses: It is used in Mexico, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic as a diuretic. It has also been given the name ringworm cassia because a leaf extract is used to combat ringworm and is sometimes put into bathwater for that purpose, particularly in Malaysia. In Guatemala, Suriname, and Mexico it is used to relieve constipation. The leaves have been reported to treat ulcers and other skin diseases.
availability and dosage: Available as a powdered leaf. Dosages vary.
contraindications: None noted.
special precautions: Consult your physician before beginning any use of an ethnobotanical substance- for medicinal purposes.
In studies done on patients suffering constipation, it has caused some diarrhea, abdominal pain, and nausea. It also has a reputation in South American traditional medicine as being able to act as an abortifacient or stimulant that could promote menstruation.
medical research: Some studies involving human subjects have pointed to beneficial effects attributed to the plant. In a clinical study done in India, extracts from Cassia alata were investigated for their effectiveness as antifungal compounds. In a test on patients with confirmed cases of a fungus infection on the skin known as Pityriasis versicolor, a fresh extract from the leaves of Cassia alata was applied to infected areas one time and washed off the next morning. The study found that the infected areas began to clear up in three weeks and led to what the researchers believe was a cure for up to a year, after which a relapse occurred. The findings, along with the lack of any side effects, led to the conclusion that Cassia alata is an effective, reliable, and safe herbal medicine for treating this particular skin ailment.
However, a Malaysian study found that an extract of Cassia alata had no effect in the laboratory on a number of microorganisms, including bacteria and yeast, that cause skin diseases in humans. The extract did have some effect on fungus growth, but researchers could not say with certainty how it occurred.
A study of hospital patients in Bangkok suffering from constipation was reported to have determined that an extract of Cassia alata was an effective laxative, providing relief, often within twenty-four hours, with a return of bowel movements in over 86 percent of the patients. The researchers attributed the laxative effect to the substance in the plant known as anthraquinones. However, it was also noted that a number of the patients complained of side effects, including diarrhea, abdominal pain, and nausea.
Cassia alata has been reputed in folklore to act as an abortifacient or promote menstruation. But in tests done on female laboratory rats in Brazil, Cassia alata did not show such traits.