Laxatives are substances that, when ingested, cause the bowels to empty. They are also sometimes referred to as purgatives or cathartics. Over-the-counter laxatives are used to treat occasional constipation. In addition, some herbal teas have cathartic effects and can provide relief. Chronic constipation may indicate a more serious problem and should be addressed by a health care professional. Always check with your doctor before trying herbs or other natural supplements.
Senna is one of the most common herbs used in laxative teas. The main chemical constituents in senna leaves, sennosides, are also used in many over-the-counter laxative products. This stimulant laxative works by irritating the colon wall, causing muscles to contract. Side effects include uncomfortable gas and cramping. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, laxative teas with senna are for short-term use only.
Cascara sagrada, also known as sacred bark, is also a stimulant laxative commonly found in laxative herbal teas. Although it is a purgative, it is generally considered safer than senna. According to the Clayton College of Natural Health herb reference guide, cascara sagrada is safe for long-term use. It is naturally antibacterial and used as a tonic herb to treat liver disorders, gallstones, kidney problems, and constipation. Check with your health care practitioner for proper use of cascara sagrada herbal tea.
Buckthorn is a shrub that grows throughout Europe and North America. It is a milder laxative than senna and is used by herbalists to treat constipation in children. It is also sometimes found in herbal teas used for internal colon cleansing or weight loss. Buckthorn helps stimulate the production of bile and calms the gastrointestinal tract. The Clayton College herb guide states that the herb is used to treat ulcerative colitis and helps relieve liver congestion. It also lists gallstones and constipation among the herb's key uses. Consult a trained health care professional for proper use of buckthorn.
Rhubarb is a bitter vegetable, similar to celery, that can be cooked and used in jellies and jams. It is also sometimes used in herbal laxative teas. In Chinese medicine, rhubarb root treats both constipation and diarrhoea as well as gastrointestinal ulcers. In small quantities, rhubarb is actually constipating, but in larger doses it has the opposite effect. Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center explains that the plant's chemical constituents, emodin and sennidin, cause stimulation of the gastrointestinal tract and produce a laxative effect. MSKCC warns against using rhubarb medicinally for more than a week without a doctor's supervision, and notes that it should be avoided by those with kidney disease, IBS, or bowel obstructions.