Cassia Obovata
 also known as
Neutral Henna or Senna

Catherine Cartwright-Jones
Henna for Hair c 2004

Cassia obovata, henna and indigo

If you have a box of green stuff that says “neutral henna”, that green powder is neither neutral nor henna.  There is no such plant as neutral henna!  Henna is Lawsonia inermis, and has a red-orange dye molecule.  The green "neutral henna" powder is most likely to be Cassia obovata leaf!

Cassia obovata powder looks very much like henna powder, but  generally does not stain hair or hands. It is an excellent conditioner which makes hair glossy and thick, with a healthy scalp.  When you mix this green leaf powder with warm water,  it has a strong smell similar to a heap of warm mowed grass.  If your powder stains your hair or hands yellow, it probably has some rhubarb root mixed into it.

Cassia obovata is also known as Senna obovata. Cassia and Senna are used often interchangeably in botanical texts.  Do remember, though that Cassia, which is also called Senna, is NOT the Cassia, which is true Cinnamon.  Just in case you were not confused enough already.  For the purposes of this page, I’ll refer to Cassia/Senna as Cassia.

Cassia Obovata, harvested for use in hair, is grown in Egypt and Nubia. There are about 400 species of cassia around the world. Many of these species are used in folk medicines, as antifungals, antibacterials and laxatives, and were recorded in 9th and 10th century Arabic pharmacopoeia.  Several Cassias traditionally used to cure fungal and bacterial infections have been tested and found to be highly effective against many microbes and fungi.  The antimicrobial substance these cassias have in common is chrysophanic acid, an anthraqinone. Rhubarb root also has chrysophanic acid.  Chysophanic acid, in its pure form is yellow, and if it is in high concentrations in rhubarb root or cassia, it may stain hair and skin yellow ...  thus it is often used in “blonde henna” (which is not henna, and is not blonde!) 

Chrysophanic acid (1,8-dihydroxy-3-methylanthraquinone),

  chrysophanic acid

 Chemical structure of chrysophanic acid (1,8-dihydroxy-3-methylanthraquinone)
Journal of Ethnopharmacology 72 (2000) 43–46

Cassias with high levels of anthraquinones and crysophanic acid are very effective inhibitors of skin fungus, mite infestations, bacterial and microbial diseases. Cassia alata, which has high levels of anthraquinones and crysophanic acid, has been traditionally used to treat eczema, itching and skin infections in humans. It has also been demonstrated to completely cure bovine skin lesions due to Dermatophilus Congolensis, Pityriasis versicolor, and mite infestation of rabbits, Psoroptes cuniculi. In other tests, Cassia alata anthraquinones were effective inhibitors of of Streptococus mutans, Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus subtilis, Micrococcus luteus, and Pseudomonas putida. Chrysophanic acid is also effective in treating psoriasis.  The cassias with high levels of anthraquinones and crysophanic acid are genuinely effective in promoting healthy conditions of skin and hair.  Cassia obovata has not been as throughly tested as Cassia alata, but seems to have similar properties.

Some of the early western confusion over the cassia species as used in traditional Arabic, Indian, and North African medicines can be seen in the 1911 edition of The British Pharmaceutical Codex, which lists Senna Alexandrina, Alexandrian Senna; Cassia obovata; Cassia angustifolia, Arabian senna, Mecca senna; Cassia montana; Cassia holosericea; Cassia angustifolia, Senna Indica, Indian senna, Tinnevelly senna; Cassia acutifolia, Cassia angustifolia and says “The constituents of senna leaves are not yet well known.”  Recent ethnobotanists have studied these plants and attempted to clarify species, isolate and identify phytochemicals, and test their effects on fungi and bacteria, but still stumble around the old names.

Cassia Obovata and Hard Water

If the water you use to wash your hair is full of dissolved minerals, the minerals will accumulate in your hair.  Some of those minerals may react with the cassia and turn your hair green, dark brown, or greenish black.  Please test cassia on some hair harvested from your hairbrush!   If the color looks strange, treat your hair with Rainwash from to remove the minerals before you dye your hair with cassia.

Online references:

Academic References:

Anderson, W.A   .Adedayo, O.  Moo-Young, M.  Kolawole, D.O.
Antifungal Properties of Some Components of Senna Alata Flower.
Pharmaceutical Biology; Dec99, Vol. 37 Issue 5, 3 graphs

Adedayo, O.Anderson, W.A.Moo-Young, M.Snieckus, V.Patil, P.A.Kolawole, D.O.
Phytochemistry and Antibacterial Activity of Senna alata Flower.
Pharmaceutical Biology; Dec2001, Vol. 39 Issue 6, p408, 5p, 2 charts

Adedayo, O.Anderson, W.A.Moo-Young, M. Snieckus, V.
Kinetics of Antibacterial Activity and Physicochemical Damage Caused by the Extracts of Senna alata Flowers.
Pharmaceutical Biology; Sep2002, Vol. 40 Issue 6, p461, 5p

Agarwal , Sudhir, Singh, Sushma,  Kumar
Cassia: Antifungal activity of anthraquinone derivatives from Rheum emodi
Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, P.O.-CIMAP, Lucknow 226 015, India

Ali-Emmanuel, N.1Moudachirou, M.2Akakpo, J.A.3 Quetin-Leclercq, J.
Treatment of bovine dermatophilosis with Senna alata, Lantana camara and Mitracarpus scaber leaf extracts.
Journal of Ethnopharmacology; Jun2003, Vol. 86 Issue 2/3, p167, 5p

Jittra Limsong a, E. Benjavongkulchai , Jintakorn Kuvatanasuchati
Inhibitory effect of some herbal extracts on adherence of Streptococcus mutans
Journal of Ethnopharmacology 92, (2004), 281–289

 M.R. Khan_, M. Kihara, A.D. Omoloso
Antimicrobial activity of Cassia alata
Fitoterapia, 72, 2001, 561_564

N. Mascolo, R. Capasso and F. Capasso
Senna. A Safe and Effective Drug
Phytotherapy Research, 12, S143–S145 (1998)

Menter, A. Barker, J.
Psoriasis in practice
 Lancet; 7/27/91, Vol. 338 Issue 8761, p231, 4p

R. Perumal Samy, S. Ignacimuthu
Antibacterial activity of some folklore medicinal plants used by tribals in Western Ghats of India
Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 69, (2000) 63–71