The Medicinal Herb Info site was created to help educate visitors about the often forgotten wisdom of the old ways of treating illnesses. Many of today's drugs and medicines were originally derived from natural ingredients, combinations of plants and other items found in nature.

We are not suggesting that you ignore the help of trained medical professionals, simply that you have additional options available for treating illnesses. Often the most effective treatment involves a responsible blend of both modern and traditional treatments.

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Cascara Sagrada

Scientific Names

Cascara Sagrada

  • Rhamnus purshiana
  • Rhamnaceae
  • Buckthorn family

Common Names

  • Bearberry
  • Buckthorn
  • California buckthorn
  • Cascara
  • Chittem bark
  • Coffee berry
  • Persian bark
  • Purshiana bark
  • Sacred bark
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    Parts Usually Used

    Inner bark, dried for 1-3 years before use. Fresh bark is an emetic.
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    Description of Plant(s) and
    Culture

    Cascara sagrada is a small deciduous tree or large deciduous shrub with thinly fissured bark; grows 15-25 feet high, and its reddish-brown bark is often covered with a gray lichen. The alternate, dark green, elliptic to oblong-ovate, wavy-edged, leaves are finely and irregularly toothed or nearly entire. They are rounded at the base and may be obtuse or acute at the apex. Clusters of small, greenish, bell-shaped, flowers grow in finely hairy umbels on leaf axils, producing eventually juicy, black or purplish black, pea-sized drupes (berries).
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    Where Found

    Native to the mountainous areas of North America from British Columbia to Montana and northern California, Idaho. Found in moist places, in the understory of coniferous forests, along roadsides.
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    Medicinal Properties

    Bitter tonic, purgative, nervine, emetic.
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    Biochemical Information

    Anthraquinone, calcium, cacarosides, emodin glycosides, also aloin-like glycosides, chrysaloin, chrysophanol, aloe-emodin, bitter principle, tannins, ferment, resin, essential oils, inositol, manganese, PABA, potassium, vitamin B complex, and vitamins B2 and B6.
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    Legends, Myths and Stories

    California buckthorn (cascara sagrada) is still the most effective laxative known. It has also been used for gallstones and liver ailments.

    Coffee berry (cascara sagrada), “Ae buck oko,” Warms Springs, Oregon. California Native Americans used it also. The bark was peeled back towards the ground; used for a physic.
    The bark is very bitter and disagreeable to the taste of many people.

    In Europe, Rhamnus frangula was being used for its laxative properties. In remote sections of the northwest, Native Americans were using Rhamnus purshiana for laxative. As the Europeans eventually came in contact with the Native Americans of the northwest they learned about the new variety of Rhamnus. They recognized it as a superior variety and eventually replaced the old world variety for the Native American variety. It is better known today as Cascara Sagrada.

    While the Native Americans did not know the chemical constituents of their medicine plants, centuries of experiment taught them the hidden virtues. They knew just what season an herb contained its fullest properties. They knew that an herb found growing in certain soils and locations was superior medicinally to the same plant growing in an unfavorable location. They believed that bark growing on the sunny side of trees was stronger than bark found on the shady side. They knew what part of the plants were best used and applied them in the manner most effective. The Native Americans understood the strength of their medicines. This is remarkably evident when they used such drastic medicine as Poison Oak, Poison Ivy, Poison Hemlock, and Stramonium. They were taken internally for certain conditions with counter-balancing botanicals in special doses.

    In Colonial times and early pioneer days, the settlers often went to the Native American medicine man for help. Today many of these old Native American medicines are recognized and used by herbalists. Modern chemistry has proved how remarkable and correct the majority of the Native Indian remedies were used.

    Missionaries called the bark found in Native American belongings Cascara Sagrada or Holy Bark, believing it to be the Chitemwood of the Bible.

    The United States Dispensatory states: “Cascara Sagrada belongs to the group of vegetable cathartics whose activity depends upon the presence of one or more hydroxymethulanthraguinones–in the treatment of chronic constipation it acts very favorably. It often appears to restore tone to the relaxed bowel and in this way produces a permanent beneficial effect.”

    Herbalists generally believe best results are obtained when Cascara is mixed with other herb simples.
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    Uses

    Use for liver disorders, gallstones, leukemia, colitis, parasitic infestation, hemorrhoids, hepatic torpor, jaundice, and diverticulosis. Acts as a colon cleanser and as a laxative. Cascara sagrada bark is one of the best and commonest plant laxatives. It encourages peristalsis by irritating the bowels, but it is also useful for chronic constipation since it has a lasting tonic effect on relaxed bowels. Cascara sagrada has also been used for gallstones and liver ailments and for chronic dyspepsia. Cascara sagrada is not habit forming.
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    Formulas or Dosages

    Bark must be at least a year old before it is used. Fresh bark should not be used.

    Infusion: steep 1 tsp. bark in 1 cup water for 1 hour. Take 1 to 2 cups a day, before meals or on an empty stomach.

    Tincture: take 40-60 drops with water, morning and evening as required.
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    Nutrient Content

    Calcium, manganese, potassium, vitamin B complex, and vitamins B2 and B6.
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    How Sold

    An extract of the bark is still prescribed and marketed under various brand names.

    Capsules or tablets: take 1 to 3 daily.

    Do not mistake cascara sagrada tablets for Cascarets; they are an entirely different product.

    Cascara cordial prepared by the Parke Davis Company

    Also available as a tincture: use 15 to 30 drops.
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    Warning

    Bark must be at least a year old before it is used. Fresh bark should not be used.

    Care should be exercised in eating the fruits of this plant, it has purgative power that is very pronounced.

    Excessive dose can cause cramps and diarrhea.
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    Bibliography

    Buy It! The Herb Book, by John Lust, Bantam Books, 666 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY. copyright 1974.

    Buy It! Back to Eden, by Jethro Kloss; Back to Eden Publishing Co., Loma Linda, CA 92354, Original copyright 1939, revised edition 1994

    Buy It! The Complete Medicinal Herbal, by Penelope Ody, Dorling Kindersley, Inc, 232 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016, First American Edition, copyright 1993

    Buy It! Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants, by Steven Foster and James A. Duke., Houghton Mifflin Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10000

    Buy It! Planetary Herbology, by Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D., O.M.D., Lotus Press, PO Box 325, Twin Lakes. WI 53181., Copyright 1988, published 1992

    Buy It! American Folk Medicine, by Clarence Meyer, Meyerbooks, publisher, PO Box 427, Glenwood, Illinois 60425, 1973

    Buy It! Earl Mindell’s Herb Bible, by Earl Mindell, R.Ph., Ph.D., Simon & Schuster/Fireside, Rockefeller Center 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, New York 10020

    Buy It! Indian Uses of Native Plants, by Edith Van Allen Murphey, Meyerbooks, publisher, PO Box 427, Glenwood, Illinois 60425, copyright 1958, print 1990

    Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Fifth Edition: A Practical A-to-Z Reference to Drug-Free Remedies Using Vitamins, Minerals, Herbs & Food Supplements, by James F. Balch, M.D. and Phyllis A. Balch, C.N.C., Avery Publishing Group, Inc., Garden City Park, NY

    Buy It! Indian Herbalogy of North America, by Alma R. Hutchens, Shambala Publications, Inc., Horticultural Hall, 300 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, 1973

    Buy It! The Herbalist Almanac, by Clarence Meyer, Meyerbooks, publisher, PO Box 427, Glenwood, Illinois 60425, copyright 1988, fifth printing, 1994

    Buy It! Webster’s New World Dictionary, Third College Edition, Victoria Neufeldt, Editor in Chief, New World Dictionaries: A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 15 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10023

    Buy It! An Instant Guide to Medicinal Plants, by Pamela Forey and Ruth Lindsay, Crescent Books (January 27, 1992).

    Buy It! The Yoga of Herbs: An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine, by Dr. David Frawley & Dr. Vasant Lad, Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin, Second edition, 1988.

    Buy It! The Rodale Herb Book: How to Use, Grow, and Buy Nature’s Miracle Plants (An Organic gardening and farming book), edited by William H. Hylton, Rodale Press, Inc. Emmaus, PA, 18049., 1974

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