The bark of the cascara sagrada was already used by native American Indians, and it soon drew the attention of the Spaniards who colonized California. Like the bark of the alder buckthorn, a similar species which grows in Europe, cascara sagrada must not be consumed until it has been dried for one year, since when fresh it has toxic effects.
Cascara Sagrada Scientific Facts
- Scientific Name – Rhamnus purshiana D.C.
- Other Names – Sacred bark, Californian buckthorn.
- French – Cascara.
- Spanish – Cáscara sagrada.
- Environment – Coniferous forests on the West coast of the USA and Canada. It does not grow in Europe.
- Description – Tree or shrub of the Rhamnaceae family, growing from 2 to 6 m high, with oval leaves which have prominent nerves. Its bark is greyish and is often covered by lichen.
- Parts of the plant used medicinally – The bark of the trunk and branches, when dry.
Use this plant carefully during pregnancy, breastfeeding, menstruation, and hemorrhoid crises, as it produces pelvic congestion.
The bark of this tree contains anthraquinone glycosides (emodin, chrysophine), similar to those of the alder buckthorn, and other glycosides (aloin, chrysaloin). Its intense purgative effect, more drastic than that of the alder buckthorn, is due to the combined action of all these active components.
Though being a potent purgative, in therapeutic doses it is quite well tolerated and does not produce cramps or colitis. It can be used for long periods, unlike chemical laxatives. This plant is thus ideal for chronic constipation or intestinal atony, especially for elderly people. It also has mild cholagogue and eupeptic properties, thus promoting the emptying of the gall bladder, and easing digestion.
How to use Cascara Sagrada
- Bark powder – The recommended dose is 0.2 to 0.3 grams, twice a day.
- Infusion, with 3 grams of bark per cup of water. Drink up to three cups daily, on an empty stomach.
George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. “Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants.” George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. Ed. Francesc X. Gelabert. vols. 2 San Fernando de Henares: Editorial Safeliz, 2000. 528. Print.