Other Names: Chinese cassia, Canton Cassia, Canel, Cassia Bark
Medicinal Uses: Diarrhea, Anti-microbial, Antibacterial, Tonic, Nausea
Cassia is a genus of Fabaceae in the subfamily Caesalpinioideae. Commonly called cassias, “cassia” is also the English name of Cinnamomum aromaticum in the Lauraceae (from which the spice cassiabark is derived), and some other species of Cinnamomum. In addition, the genus Cassia was for long ill-delimited with regards to the related Cassiinae – especially Senna -, many species of which were once placed herein. As a rule-of-thumb, Cassia sensu stricto contains the largest Cassiinae, usually mid-sized trees.
“Cassia” is not infrequently encountered in texts on herbalism and alternative medicine. This is usually Senna however; while both genera contain plants with medical properties those of Senna seem to be more pronounced (or are simply better-studied). Still, Golden Shower Tree (C. fistula) is unequivocally identified and considered very potent in Ayurvedic medicine, where it is called aragvadha (“disease killer”). It contains elevated quantities of anthraquinones and consequently is mainly useful against gastrointestinal conditions (e.g. constipation or acid reflux) and to still bleeding. While its fruit pulp is considered a mild remedy, the roots are said to be so potent as to render their use dangerous if not supervised by a trained professional.
There exists some culinary use for cassia. The fruit pulp of some is eaten as a refreshing treat – similar to the related tamarind – , though it is important to note that not all species have edible fruit, and at least some have poisonous seed. Of course, as noted above, consuming too much of the pulp even in species in which it is edible is likely to result in fulminant passing of stool. It is not quite clear to what extent Cassia leaves are used to brew herbal teas, as is common with those of Senna. And clearly, both Cassiinae pale by comparison to the effectively global importance of Cinnamomum aromaticum bark.