Cassia sieberiana (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
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wild 1, leaf; 2, inflorescence; 3, fruit. Redrawn and adapted by Achmad Satiri Nurhaman

wood in transverse section
wood in radial section
wood in tangential section

Cassia sieberiana DC.

Protologue: Prodr. 2: 489 (1825).
Family: Caesalpiniaceae (Leguminosae - Caesalpinioideae)
Chromosome number: 2n = 26, 28

Vernacular names

  • West African laburnum, African laburnum, drumstick tree (En).
  • Casse du Sénégal, casse de Sieber, casse à grappes, casse-flûte (Fr).
  • Mossué, cana fístula, cacafistula (Po).
  • Mzangaya, mzangaye (Sw).

Origin and geographic distribution

Cassia sieberiana is distributed from Senegal and Gambia east to DR Congo and Uganda.


Leaves, roots and pods of Cassia sieberiana are widely used in traditional medicine. The entire plant is purgative and diuretic. In Senegal an infusion of the entire plant is given against all children’s diseases. In Uganda powder of different plant parts is applied to teeth to cure toothache; when mixed with butter it is used to treat skin diseases. In Senegal and Burkina Faso a steam bath of leafy twigs boiled in water is prescribed to help against malaria attacks and fever; the liquid should also be drunk. An infusion of the leaves sweetened with honey is taken against stomach-ache, ulcers and diarrhoea. Boiled and squeezed fresh leaves are applied as poultice in pleurisy or burns. Gonorrhoea in women is treated by taking leaf powder with food. In Benin the twigs are used to treat sleeping sickness.

The roots, boiled in water, are used to treat haemorrhoids, bilharzia, leprosy, dropsy and bloody dysentery. In Côte d’Ivoire the decoction is taken in large doses to treat intestinal worms including tapeworms, although this is risky. An infusion of the root bark is employed against venereal diseases, sterility and dysmenorrhoea. After soaking the roots in water, the liquid is used for a bath against tiredness and for body massage. A decoction of the roots is considered an aphrodisiac. In Burkina Faso a pinch of powdered dried decorticated roots taken at the end of each meal is said to prevent malaria. Crushed roots are rubbed on the temples to treat headache. Debarked roots are boiled with bark of Terminalia macroptera Guill. & Perr. to combat eczema. In Burkina Faso capsules made from the root bark are prescribed against Aids. The yellow pulp around the seeds and an infusion of the pods is taken as a laxative. In Uganda diarrhoea, dysentery and vomiting are treated by a decoction of bark, leaves or roots. The roots and seeds are used as fish poison in Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria.

The wood is suitable for making furniture, tools, construction and railway sleepers. It is used as firewood, but it is considered inferior because it produces a lot of smoke. The root wood is used in Sierra Leone and Burkina Faso as chewsticks. The tree is planted as an ornamental and as an avenue tree.

Production and international trade

Bark and roots of Cassia sieberiana are commonly sold in local markets. The pods are locally traded, especially as vermifuge. The Centre National de Semences Forestières in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso sells the seeds at US$ 45–55/kg.


Cassia sieberiana contains calcium oxalate in abundance. The leaves contain flavones (quercitrin, isoquercitrin), an anthraquinone (rhein) and tannins (11%). The roots contain tannins (up to 17%), anthraquinones and sterols. The purgative action can be ascribed to the anthraquinones. The flavones cause diuresis and have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory activity. An assay for antiviral activity against Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) showed that Cassia sieberiana extracts had a significant activity against this virus. In-vitro tests only showed a low activity of the extracts against trypanosomes. Leaf extracts were found to be active against Staphylococcus lutea, Mycobacterium phlei, Bacillus subtilis and Proteus sp., but not against Staphylococcus albus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa or Escherichia coli.

The termite-resistant wood changes from white or yellowish-pinkish to dark red upon exposure. It is finely textured, heavy, hard and difficult to work.

Adulterations and substitutes

As a laxative Cassia sieberiana is often substituted by Cassia fistula L., Senna podocarpa (Guill. & Perr.) Lock and Senna alexandrina Mill. pods.


Shrub or small tree up to 15(–20) m tall; bole short, twisted; bark fissured, grey to brown, with blackish stripes; young branches densely shortly hairy. Leaves arranged spirally, paripinnately compound with 5–14 pairs of leaflets; stipules narrowly triangular, c. 2 mm long, caducous; leaflets elliptical to ovate, 3.5–10 cm × 2–5 cm, apex rounded to acute, shortly hairy. Inflorescence an axillary pendulous raceme up to 35(–45) cm long; bracts soon falling. Flowers bisexual, slightly zygomorphic, 5-merous; sepals elliptical, 5–8 mm long, slightly hairy; petals oblong to almost circular, 2–3.5 cm long, bright yellow; stamens 10, free, 3 lower ones fertile, hooked at base, much longer than the petals, 4 middle ones fertile, short, 3 upper ones rudimentary; ovary superior, sessile, style slender, much longer than the petals. Fruit a, cylindrical pod 40–60(–90) cm × c. 1.5 cm, transversely partitioned, dehiscent by 2 valves, black, many-seeded with seeds embedded in yellow pulp. Seeds ellipsoid, 8–9 mm long, rusty to dark brown, glabrous. 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.


Wood-anatomical description (IAWA hardwood codes):

  • Growth rings: 2: growth ring boundaries indistinct or absent.
  • Vessels: 5: wood diffuse-porous; 13: simple perforation plates; 22: intervessel pits alternate; 23: shape of alternate pits polygonal; 26: intervessel pits medium (7–10 μm); (27: intervessel pits large ( 10 μm)); 29: vestured pits; 30: vessel-ray pits with distinct borders; similar to intervessel pits in size and shape throughout the ray cell; 42: mean tangential diameter of vessel lumina 100–200 μm; 43: mean tangential diameter of vessel lumina 200 μm; 46: 5 vessels per square millimetre; 47: 5–20 vessels per square millimetre; (58: gums and other deposits in heartwood vessels).
  • Tracheids and fibres: 61: fibres with simple to minutely bordered pits; (65: septate fibres present); 66: non-septate fibres present; 69: fibres thin- to thick-walled.
  • Axial parenchyma: 80: axial parenchyma aliform; 81: axial parenchyma lozenge-aliform; 82: axial parenchyma winged-aliform; 83: axial parenchyma confluent; 85: axial parenchyma bands more than three cells wide; 91: two cells per parenchyma strand; (92: four (3–4) cells per parenchyma strand).
  • Rays: (96: rays exclusively uniseriate); (97: ray width 1–3 cells); 104: all ray cells procumbent; 116: 12 rays per mm.
  • Mineral inclusions: 136: prismatic crystals present; 142: prismatic crystals in chambered axial parenchyma cells.
(N.P. Mollel, P. Détienne & E.A. Wheeler)

Growth and development

In West Africa Cassia sieberiana flowers in March–April, just before the rainy season when the trees are leafless. In Uganda flowering is in June–August, during the rainy season, when new leaves have formed. The fruits ripen in August–October in West Africa and in September–February in Uganda. Cassia sieberiana does not form root nodules.


Cassia sieberiana occurs in tree or shrub savanna with less than 800 mm annual rainfall. Acid sandy soil is preferred.

Propagation and planting

Cassia sieberiana is mainly propagated by seed. Ripe, fresh seeds have nearly 100% viability. One kg contains 7,000–16,500 seeds. Treatment with sulphuric acid is recommended before sowing older seeds. Passage of seeds through cattle intestines also hastens germination, and enhances the distribution of seeds in grazed areas. Marcotting and side-grafting are feasible for vegetative multiplication.


Cassia sieberiana is one of the constituents of the vegetation of fallow fields in the Sahel, but unlike Parkia biglobosa (Jacq.) R.Br. ex G.Don (African locust bean) and Vitellaria paradoxa C.F.Gaertn. (shea butter tree) it is eradicated during clearing. When planted for the wood it can be left after cutting to produce at least one more ratoon.

Diseases and pests

Cassia sieberiana is a host of the groundnut bruchid (Caryedon serratus), a major storage pest of groundnut, and of the bean flower thrips (Megalurothrips sjostedti), a pest of several pulse crops.


Pods of Cassia sieberiana are harvested by hand and the seeds are extracted manually as well. For harvesting the roots, the plant has to be dug up.

Handling after harvest

The seeds need to be stored in a dry place. Storage in the pods is also feasible, but in that case extra care must be taken to prevent insect damage.

Genetic resources

Cassia sieberiana is rather common and does not seem to be endangered. However, uprooting is detrimental for the population and is reason for concern in Burkina Faso.


In view of the numerous local uses of Cassia sieberiana more clinical tests seem warranted. Quality control and measures for sustainable utilization are needed. Interest in the species as an ornamental is growing. Use as a pot plant in temperate zones seems to be possible.

Major references

  • Arbonnier, M., 2004. Trees, shrubs and lianas of West African dry zones. CIRAD, Margraf Publishers Gmbh, MNHN, Paris, France. 573 pp.
  • Atindehou, K.K., Koné, M., Terreaux, C., Traoré, D., Hostettmann, K. & Dosso, M., 2002. Evaluation of the antimicrobial potential of medicinal plants from the Ivory Coast. Phytotherapy Research 16(5): 497–502.
  • Aubréville, A., 1970. Légumineuses - Césalpinioidées (Leguminosae - Caesalpinioideae). Flore du Cameroun. Volume 9. Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France. 339 pp.
  • Brenan, J.P.M., 1967. Leguminosae, subfamily Caesalpinioideae. In: Milne-Redhead, E. & Polhill, R.M. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 230 pp.
  • 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.
  • Hoët, S., Opperdoes, F., Brun, R., Adjakidjé, V. & Quetin-Leclercq, J., 2004. In vitro antitrypanosomal activity of ethnopharmacologically selected Beninese plants. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 91: 37–42.
  • Inngjerdongen, K., Nergård, C.S., Diallo, D., Mounkoro, P.P. & Paulsen, B.S., 2004. An ethnopharmacological survey of plants used for wound healing in Dogonland, Mali, West Africa. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 92: 233–244.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
  • Silva, O., Barbosa, S., Diniz, A., Valdeira, M.L. & Gomes, E., 1997. Plant extracts antiviral activity against Herpes Simplex Virus type 1 and African Swine Fever Virus. Pharmaceutical Biology 35(1): 12–16.
  • von Maydell, H.-J., 1983. Arbres et arbustes du Sahel: leurs caractéristiques et leurs utilisations. Schriftenreihe der GTZ 147. Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) GmbH, Eschborn, Germany. 531 pp.

Other references

  • Adam, J.G., Echard, N. & Lescot, M., 1972. Plantes médicinales Hausa de l’Ader. Journal d’Agriculture Tropicale et de Botanique Appliquée 19(8–9): 259–399.
  • Adjanohoun, E.J., Ahyi, M.R.A., Aké Assi, L., Dan Dicko, L., Daouda, H., Delmas, M., de Souza, S., Garba, M., Guinko, S., Kayonga, A., N'Golo, D., Raynal, J. & Saadou, M., 1985. Médecine traditionnelle et pharmacopée - Contribution aux études ethnobotaniques et floristiques au Niger. Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique, Paris, France. 250 pp.
  • Adjanohoun, E.J. & Aké Assi, L., 1979. Contribution au recensement des plantes médicinales de Côte d’Ivoire. Centre National de Floristique, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. 358 pp.
  • Adjanohoun, E.J., Aké Assi, L., Floret, J.J., Guinko, S., Koumaré, M., Ahyi, M.R.A. & Raynal, J., 1979. Médecine traditionelle et pharmacopée - Contribution aux études ethnobotaniques et floristiques au Mali. Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique, Paris, France. 291 pp.
  • Berhaut, J., 1975. Flore illustrée du Sénégal. Dicotylédones. Volume 4. Ficoidées à Légumineuses. Gouvernement du Sénégal, Ministère du Développement Rural et de l’Hydraulique, Direction des Eaux et Forêts, Dakar, Senegal. 625 pp.
  • Boussim, I.J., Guinko, S., Tuquet, C. & Sallé, G., 2004. Mistletoes of the agroforestry parklands of Burkina Faso. Agroforestry Systems 60: 39–49.
  • Elojuba, A.A., Abere, A.T. & Adelusi, S.A., 1999. Laxative activities of Cassia pods sourced from Nigeria. Nigerian Journal of Natural Products and Medicine 3: 51–53.
  • Hegnauer, R. & Hegnauer, M., 1996. Chemotaxonomie der Pflanzen. Band 11b-1. Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel, Switzerland. 500 pp.
  • Keay, R.W.J., 1989. Trees of Nigeria. A revised version of Nigerian trees (1960, 1964) by R.W.J. Keay, C.F.A. Onochie and D.P. Stanfield. Clarendon Press, Oxford, United Kingdom. 476 pp.
  • Kokwaro, J.O., 1993. Medicinal plants of East Africa. 2nd Edition. Kenya Literature Bureau, Nairobi, Kenya. 401 pp.
  • Nacoulma-Ouédraogo, O. & Millogo-Rasolodimby, J., 2002. Les frotte-dents comme produits cosmétiques et médicinaux au Burkina Faso. Etudes de la flore et la végétation de Burkina Faso 7: 49–54.
  • Nacro, M. & Millogo-Rasolodimbi, J., 1993. Plantes tinctoriales et plantes à tanins du Burkina Faso. Editions ScientifikA, Amiens, France. 152 pp.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 1998. Afrikanische Arzneipflanzen und Jagdgifte. Chemie, Pharmakologie, Toxikologie. 2nd Edition. Wissenschaftliche Verlagsgesellschaft mbH, Stuttgart, Germany. 960 pp.
  • Nikiéma, J.B., Djierro, K., Simpore, J., Guissou, I.P., Nacoulma-Ouédraogo, O.G. & Bassene, E., 2004. Contribution à la connaissance des plantes médicinales utilisées par les tradipraticiens de la ville de Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), pour la prise en charge des personnes vivant avec le VIH/SIDA. Le Pharmacien d’Afrique 173: 13–15.
  • Paris, R. & Etchepare, S., 1967. Sur les polyphenols du Cassia sieberiana DC.: isolement du l-epicatechol et du leucopelargonidol. Annales Pharmaceutiques de France 25(5): 343–346.
  • Sembène, M. & Delobel, A., 1998. Genetic differentiation of groundnut seed-beetle populations in Senegal. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata 87(2): 171–180.
  • SEPASAL, 2006. Cassia sieberiana. [Internet] Survey of Economic Plants for Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (SEPASAL) database. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. ceb/sepasal/. March 2006.
  • Taïta, P., 2000. La biodiversité des espèces spontanées utilisées dans l’alimentation et la pharmacopée dans la région de la réserve de biosphère de la Mare aux Hippopotames. In: Actes du Forum National de la Recherche Scientifique et des Innovations Technologiques (FRSIT), 3–8 avril 2000, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Tome 2. Sécurité alimentaire. pp. 77–95.

Sources of illustration

  • Keay, R.W.J., 1989. Trees of Nigeria. A revised version of Nigerian trees (1960, 1964) by R.W.J. Keay, C.F.A. Onochie and D.P. Stanfield. Clarendon Press, Oxford, United Kingdom. 476 pp.


  • L.J.G. van der Maesen, Biosystematics Group, Wageningen University, Gen. Foulkesweg 37, 6703 BL Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article

van der Maesen, L.J.G., 2007. Cassia sieberiana DC. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 13 November 2020.