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Cassia fistula L.

Sp. pl. 1: 377 (1753).
Caesalpiniaceae (Leguminosae - Caesalpinioideae)
Chromosome number
2n = 24, 28
Vernacular names
Golden shower, Indian laburnum, golden pipetree, purging cassia, purging fistula, pudding-pipe tree (En). Canéficier, bâton casse, casse doux, casse espagnole, douche d’or (Fr). Cassia officinal, cana fístula, cássia fistula, meduro (Po). Mkundekunde (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
Cassia fistula probably originates from India and Sri Lanka, but is now pantropical. The medicinal use of Cassia fistula dates from ancient times and has been the main factor in its spread. It is now widespread in East Africa and several of the Indian Ocean islands.
The ripe pods and seeds of Cassia fistula are widely used as a laxative. The root-bark, leaves and flowers also have laxative properties, but to a lesser extent. In Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Mozambique Cassia fistula pods are used as a remedy for malaria, blood poisoning, anthrax and dysentery. In Mauritius a decoction of the pulp of the fruit is taken as a cure for kidney stones, as a vermifuge and as a laxative. In Papua New Guinea broken bones and tropical ulcers are bandaged with bark scrapings and leaf sap. In Thailand the heartwood is traditionally applied as an anthelminthic, and a decoction of the roots is applied to purify wounds and ulcers. The bark or leaves are widely applied to skin problems. In India the roots are used to treat fever. In tropical America the pods are used to treat diabetes.
In modern medicine, the fruit pulp of Cassia fistula is sometimes used as a mild laxative in paediatrics.
Apart from its medicinal properties, Cassia fistula is widely planted as an ornamental, often along roads, and it provides a hard multipurpose timber. Twigs are commonly cut for forage.
The bark is used for tanning and as an ingredient in betel paste.
Production and international trade
Although Cassia fistula pods have been traded internationally, e.g. to Europe, for centuries, no recent trade information is available.
The fruit pulp and leaves of Cassia fistula are rich in anthraquinone derivatives (c. 2%), e.g. rhein, sennidin and related dianthrones, and sennoside (the corresponding glycoside) and related dianthrone-glycosides, which are responsible for the laxative properties. In a study in Mexico, sennoside contents were found to be up to 1.5% in the leaves, and up to 1.9% in the fruits. The sugar moiety in the glycosides increases water solubility of the molecule, and thus facilitates transport to the site of action: the colon. In the colon, bacteria hydrolyze the glycosides and dianthrones to anthraquinones, a reaction which is immediately followed by the local reduction of the anthraquinones to their corresponding anthrones. The latter compounds act directly on the colon and stimulate peristalsis. In-vitro and in-vivo tests showed that seed powder of Cassia fistula has amoebicidal and cysticidal properties against Entamoeba histolytica and that it could cure intestinal and hepatic amoebiasis of laboratory animals and intestinal amoebiasis of humans. In an experiment with rats with induced hypercholesterolaemia, administration of a Cassia fistula pod extract caused a marked correction of the lipid metabolism and a return to normal serum levels of the transaminases GOT and GPT, and of phosphatases. The aqueous fraction of Cassia fistula pods produced a significant decrease in glycaemia in mice. Aqueous and methanolic bark extracts showed significant anti-oxidant activities in different in-vitro assay methods, and significant anti-inflammatory activities in both acute and chronic models using rats. An alcohol extract of Cassia fistula leaves showed antibacterial activity in vivo against Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa in wounded rats and accelerated wound healing. A water extract of Cassia fistula leaves showed antifungal activity in vitro against the human skin pathogens Trichophyton spp., Epidermatophyton floccosum and Microsporum ferruginum.
In an Indian study, the fatty acids in Cassia fistula seeds were: linoleic acid (52.5%), oleic acid (18.1%), palmitic acid (16%), vernolic acid (6.1%), stearic acid (3.4%), sterculic acid (2%), malvalic acid (1.5%) and myristic acid (0.4%). The fruit pulp is rich in pectins and mucilages. The water soluble gum isolated from the seeds has been evaluated for its binding properties for formulations of tablets. The gum showed overall superiority in viscosity and binding properties as compared to other binders.
The nutritive value of the forage is per 100 g dry matter: crude protein 18 g, crude fibre 30 g, ash 8 g, crude fat 8 g, N-free extract 37 g, Ca 3.3 g, P 0.3 g. The wood of Cassia fistula has a density of about 790 kg/m3, with more or less straight grain and moderately coarse texture. The wood has an oven-dry energy value of 18,400 kJ/kg.
Adulterations and substitutes
Anthraquinone glycosides and sennosides are also found in other Cassia, Senna and Aloe species, which are also used for their laxative and purgative properties.
Small tree up to 15 m tall, deciduous or semi-deciduous; branches spreading, young twigs glabrous. Leaves arranged spirally, paripinnately compound with 3–7 pairs of leaflets; stipules deltoid, 1–2 mm long; leaflets ovate-oblong, 7–12 cm × 4–8 cm, base broadly cuneate, apex acute, leathery, with shiny upper surface, glabrous when mature. Inflorescence an axillary, pendulous, lax raceme, 20–40(–60) cm long, 1–3 together, many-flowered; bracts soon falling. Flowers bisexual, slightly zygomorphic, 5-merous, fragrant; sepals 7–10 mm long, densely shortly hairy outside; petals broadly ovate, 30–35 mm × 10–15 mm, shortly clawed, golden-yellow; stamens 10, 3 with filaments 3–4 cm long, 4 shorter with filaments 6–10 mm long, 3 rudimentary and 3–4 mm long; ovary superior, stipitate, style long, stigma small. Fruit a pendulous cylindrical pod 20–60 cm × 1.5–2 cm, transversely partitioned, indehiscent, black, glabrous, many-seeded with seeds embedded in black, glutinous pulp. Seeds ellipsoid, 8–9 mm long, glossy brown. Seedling with epigeal germination.
Other botanical information
Until the early 1980s, Cassia was considered a very large genus of about 550 species, but was then split into 3 genera: Cassia s.s. with about 30 species, Chamaecrista and Senna.
Growth and development
Cassia fistula is a slow growing tree. In Singapore, Cassia fistula sheds its leaves at 9–10 month intervals and the inflorescences develop with the new leaves. It generally takes 8–10 years from sowing to flowering. This period can be reduced by vegetative propagation. At the beginning of flowering, the whole crown is covered with flowers; sporadic flowering continues for up to 3 months. The roots of Cassia fistula lack nodulating ability.
In its natural area of distribution Cassia fistula occurs in dry deciduous forest at lower altitudes. It is grown in areas with an annual rainfall of 500–2700 mm and average annual temperatures of 18–29°C. It tolerates some shading, is fairly drought resistant but vulnerable to frost. It seems to favour calcareous and red, volcanic soils, but is also found on sandy and loamy soils with a pH of 5.5–8.7.
Propagation and planting
Cassia fistula can be propagated by seed and vegetatively through cuttings and layering. The seeds have a hard seed coat and germination is improved by mechanical scarification or treatment with concentrated sulphuric acid for at least 45 minutes. Seed can be stored for prolonged periods without loss of viability. Cassia fistula seed should be sown in full light, and adequate water supply is required for optimal germination. The seed can increase three times in weight by absorbing water. Direct sowing is practised in Asia.
Cassia fistula coppices well and produces root suckers freely. It does not compete well with weeds.
Diseases and pests
In tropical Africa no diseases and pests of Cassia fistula have been recorded. Colletotrichum gloeosporioides causes brown pinhead spot disease in Malaysia. In the Philippines Cassia fistula is attacked by the psyllid Heteropsylla cubana.
Pods of Cassia fistula are harvested when mature, and in general simply collected from the ground.
The concentration of sennoside in the leaves of Cassia fistula is highest soon after the onset of the rainy season, when new leaves have appeared and flowering started. The sennoside content of the pods is highest at the mid-stage of fruit maturation, when the pods are pale brown.
Handling after harvest
For domestic use of Cassia fistula, the pulp is scraped from the fresh pods. Pods intended for trade are dried. Prolonged boiling of the pulp leads to loss of the purgative properties.
Genetic resources
In view of its wide distribution and cultivation, Cassia fistula is not endangered. The International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, Ibadan, Nigeria maintains a germplasm collection.
Cassia fistula is an interesting multipurpose tree for African farmers, and has a high ornamental value. With regard to frequent use of Cassia as laxative, caution seems to be needed. The hypocholesterolaemic, antifungal and anti-amoebic properties warrant further research. The seeds of Cassia fistula are a potential commercial source of seed gum, a potential binder for the pharmaceutical industry.
Major references
• Asseleih, L.M.C., Hernandez, O.H. & Sanchez, J.R., 1990. Seasonal variations in the content of sennosides in leaves and pods of two Cassia fistula populations. Phytochemistry 29: 3095–3099.
• Babeley, G.S. & Kandya, A.K., 1988. On finding out some suitable pretreatments for Cassia fistula Linn. seeds. Journal of Tropical Forestry 4(2): 147–154.
• Bruneton, J., 1999. Pharmacognosy, phytochemistry, medicinal plants. Second Edition. Technique & Documentation Lavoisier, Paris, France. 1119 pp.
• El-Saadany, S.S., El-Massry, R.A., Labib, S.M. & Sitohy, M.Z.A.D., 1991. The biochemical role and hypocholesterolaemic potential of the legume Cassia fistula in hypercholesterolaemic rats. Nahrung 35(8): 807–815.
• Gurib-Fakim, A., Guého, J. & Bissoondoyal, M.D., 1995. Plantes médicinales de Maurice, tome 1. Editions de l’Océan Indien, Rose-Hill, Mauritius. 495 pp.
• Phongpaichit, S., Pujenjob, N., Rukachaisirikul, V. & Ongsakul, M, 2004. Antifungal activity from leaf extracts of Cassia alata L., Cassia fistula L. and Cassia tora L. Songklanakarin Journal of Science and Technology 26(5): 741–748.
• Shukla, S.C. & Das, S.R., 1988. Cure of amoebiasis by seed powder of Cassia fistula. International Journal of Crude Drug Research 26(3): 141–144.
• Toruan-Purba, A.V., 1999. Cassia L. In: de Padua, L.S., Bunyapraphatsara, N. & Lemmens, R.H.M.J. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 12(1). Medicinal and poisonous plants 1. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 181–185.
• Watt, J.M. & Breyer-Brandwijk, M.G., 1962. The medicinal and poisonous plants of southern and eastern Africa. 2nd Edition. E. and S. Livingstone, London, United Kingdom. 1457 pp.
• World Agroforestry Centre, undated. Agroforestree Database. [Internet] World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Nairobi, Kenya. Sites/TreeDBS/ aft.asp. Accessed July 2006
Other references
• Burkill, H.M., 1995. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 3, Families J–L. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 857 pp.
• Göhl, B., 1981. Tropical feeds: feed information summaries and nutritive values. FAO, Rome, Italy. 529 pp.
• Ilavarasan, R., Mallika, M. & Venkataraman, S., 2005. Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activities of Cassia fistula L. bark extracts. African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines 2(1): 70–85.
• Khanna, K. & Arora, J.S., 1984. Note on propagation of Cassia fistula (amaltas) by cutting and layering. Indian Journal of Horticulture 41(1–2): 137–138.
• Masih, S.E. & Singh, B.G., 2005. Studies of fungistatic properties of leaf extract of some plants against dermatophytes. Advances in Plant Sciences 18(1): 435–438.
• Monif, T., Malhotra, A.K. & Kapoor, V.P., 1992. Cassia fistula seed galactomannan: potential binding agent for pharmaceutical formulation. Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences 54(6): 234–240.
• Senthil Kumar, M., Sripriya, R., Vijaya Raghavan, H. & Sehgal, P.K., 2006. Wound healing potential of Cassia fistula on infected albino rat model. Journal of Surgical Research 131(2): 283–289.
• SEPASAL, 2006. Cassia fistula. [Internet] Survey of Economic Plants for Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (SEPASAL) database. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. ceb/sepasal/. Accessed March 2006.
• Thulin, M., 1989. Fabaceae (Leguminosae). In: Hedberg, I. & Edwards, S. (Editors). Flora of Ethiopia. Volume 3. Pittosporaceae to Araliaceae. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Department of Systematic Botany, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. pp. 49–251.
Sources of illustration
• Toruan-Purba, A.V., 1999. Cassia L. In: de Padua, L.S., Bunyapraphatsara, N. & Lemmens, R.H.M.J. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 12(1). Medicinal and poisonous plants 1. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 181–185.
C.H. Bosch
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
Based on PROSEA 12(1): ‘Medicinal and poisonous plants 1’.

G.H. Schmelzer
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
A. Gurib-Fakim
Faculty of Science, University of Mauritius, Réduit, Mauritius
Associate editors
C.H. Bosch
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
M.S.J. Simmonds
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 3AB, United Kingdom
R. Arroo
Leicester School of Pharmacy, Natural Products Research, De Montfort University, The Gateway, Leicester LE1 9BH, United Kingdom
A. de Ruijter
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
General editors
R.H.M.J. Lemmens
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
L.P.A. Oyen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
Photo editor
A. de Ruijter
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article:
Bosch, C.H., 2007. Cassia fistula L. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
Distribution Map planted

1, branch with inflorescence; 2, flower; 3, mature fruit; 4, section of fruit showing seeds.
Source: PROSEA

flowering branch


obtained from
R.A. Howard

obtained from
T. Slotta