Senna alata: Candle bush

Family: Fabaceae
Common name: Candle bush, Emperor’s candlesticks, Christmas candles, Candelabra bush, Empress candle plant, Candletree, Ringworm shrub, Craw-craw plant, Acapulo

It is very surprising that candle bush plants are mostly considered wild plants, since they have beautiful, ornamental, yellow flowers. And the plant has many medicinal uses. They are small shrubs that grow to about 4 meters tall with an erect, green stem.

The plant is short-lived and only lives for a year or two at most, but their fast propagation makes them behave like a perennial in open areas. The seeds are dispersed by water or wind, and helps the plant spread over large areas in a short period of time.

Candle bush plants have pinnate, green leaves that are 50-70 cms long with 8-12 pairs of small leaflets. The leaflets are about 6-8 cms long with a longish-oval shape and rounded tips. Leaves usually close up at night.

Beautiful yellow flowers held aloft on long, thick stalks that are 15-30 cms long, are the distinguishing feature of Candle bush plants. The lower buds open first into glowing, yellow flowers; while the upper buds stay tightly packed and light orange in color. The petals are curved slightly inwards at the tip, protecting the reproductive organs of the plant. Stamens and anthers are prominently visible.

The flowers then form long seedpods with 4 distinct sides, about 10-15 cms long, containing many diamond-shaped, dark brown seeds inside. While the plants is still flowering, many long seedpods grow perpendicular to the stem, each plant producing hundreds of seeds in one season.

These plants have many medicinal uses in Ayurveda and herbal medicine, in treatment of a variety of ailments like asthma, stomach pain, toothache, ringworms, eczema, scabies, herpes, typhoid, diabetes, burns, diarrhea, constipation, hepatitis, convulsions and fungal infections.

The plant is called Ringworm shrub because the leaves are ground and mixed with vegetable oil and applied on a skin, as a very effective remedy for ringworm infections.

Recent studies have shown that the plant has antibacterial, antifungal, anticancer, antidiabetic, antimalarial and antiviral properties, making it a very valuable plant in treatment of various diseases. All parts of the plant like stem, leaves, flowers and seeds as used as medicines in different parts of the world, like India, China, Brazil, Guatemala, Nigeria and the Philippines.

Propagation is from seeds.

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