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DISCLAIMER: These pages are presented solely as a source of INFORMATION and ENTERTAINMENT and to provide stern warnings against use where appropriate. No claims are made for the efficacy of any herb nor for any historical herbal treatment. In no way can the information provided here take the place of the standard, legal, medical practice of any country. Additionally, some of these plants are extremely toxic and should be used only by licensed professionals who have the means to process them properly into appropriate pharmaceuticals. One final note: many plants were used for a wide range of illnesses in the past, but be aware that many of the historical uses have proven to be ineffective for the problems to which they were applied.

aka Bear Wood, Bearberry, Bitter Bark, California Buckthorn, Chittem Bark, Coffee-berry, Coffee Tree, Dogwood Bark, Josta (Russ),
Krushina (Russ), Persian Bark, Pigeonberry Bark, Purshiana Bark, Sacred Bark, Yellow Bark

(Rhamnus purshiana syn Frangula purshiana)

• The berries cause diarrhea and vomiting!
• The berries and the sap are skin irritants!
• As with any laxative, long term use or abuse can cause
disturbances in the electrolyte ballance, albuminaria, hematuria;
potassium deficiency can lead to disorders of the heart, muscular
weakness, and is more pronounced if taking medications
like heart glycosides, diuretics, or corticosteroids.

CONTRAINDICATED: Not to be taken by pregnant or lactating women. Not to be taken by children under 12. Not to be taken by anyone with an intestinal obstruction or inflammation (ie. Crohn's disease), colitis, appendicitis, any abdominal pain of unknown origin. Although the old herbals regard this herb as safe to use on a regular basis, as with any laxative, chronic use can lead to depletion of sodium and potassium and cause kidney problems, fluid retention, arrhythmias, and bone loss. Use should be restricted to 2 weeks. Not to be taken if using potassium-depleting medications such as thiazide diuretics, steroids, or the herb licorice root. Should NOT be taken when taking digoxin or medications prescribed for heart irregularities.

CONTAINS: Free anthraquinone (increases peristalsis), a sugar derivative (triggers a laxative effect), anthranoids (aloe-emodin, chrysophenol, physcion types), aglycones, emodin glycosides, cascarosides, chrysaloin, chrysophanol, rheins, aloins, frangulin, iso-emodin, resin, tannin, calcium, potassium (modest amount), phosphorus, selenium, sodium, chlorine, magnesium, iron, niacin, manganese, silicon, vitamins C, B1, B2.
Contains possible anti-leukemia properties.

A deciduous tree to 20 foot with dull green, oblong leaves to 8 inches which are finely toothed and with 10 to 12 pairs of prominent veins; flowers are small and greenish and appear in finely-haired umbels; the fruit is a black pea-sized drupe; the seeds are 3-lobed; the bark is reddish to purplish-brown going to dark brown with age. Native to the mountainous areas of the Pacific west coast of North America from British Columbia to northern California. Hardy to zone 7. Experimentally, trees grown in other parts of the United States have failed to produce the quality of bark available from wild trees of the northwestern United States. Can also be found growing in Siberia, Kozahstan, and Central Russia.

The name in Spanish means 'sacred bark', although the natives of central America knew of its value long before the arrival of the Spanish who immediately adopted it and spread its use throughout Europe. It was first marketed commercially in 1877 by Parke-Davis, who, a year later, produced a fluid extract to use as an emetic and purgative. Cascara became official in the USP in 1890.

PROPAGATION: By SEED in autumn; by SEMIRIPE CUTTINGS in summer; LAYERING in late winter or early spring.
NEEDS: Moist, fertile soil in full to part sun. Hardy to zone 7. Remove dead wood in late winter and thin the branches.
PART USED: Bark, aged at least 1 year, preferably 2.
HARVEST: Bark is peeled from trunk and large branches of young trees in the wild during spring and summer, then dried at least one and up to 2 years before use. Commercially the fresh bark is dried at a temperature of 100ºC for one hour which is said to produce the same effect as drying for one year.
SOLVENT: Diluted alcohol; boiling water.


Bitter, astringent, antispasmodic, emetic, laxative, hepatic, nervine, cooling, tonic; affects colon, stomach, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, lower bowel system.
Has been used for chronic constipation, colitis, digestive problems, chronic gout, insomnia, hypertension, hemorrhoids (associated with poor bowel function), intestinal parasites, liver problems, including enlarged liver, and jaundice. A simple laxative has been made by pouring boiling water over a bit of pulverized bark and allowing to cool, although it was not ususally taken as a tea, the decoction or tincture having been preferred. Must be combined with fennel or caraway to prevent griping.
For engorged liver and blood disorders with accompanying constipation, 1 oz of the fluid extract was added to 8 oz of Yellow Dock syrup (Rumex crispus).
A tonic was once made by soaking a piece of dried bark overnight in cold water, then drinking the next morning.
Has been used externally to discourage nail biting.
Research has been being conducted to explore Cascara's possible effects on Herpes Simplex.

!All others buy commercial preparations and follow directions carefully!
GRAINS = 15 to 30
INFUSION = (Decoction and tincture preferred. Infusion rarely used.) 1 tsp bark in 1 cup water, steeped for 1 hour and taken 1 to 2 times daily before meals or on an emtpy stomach.
DECOCTION = 1 tsp powdered bark simmered in 1½ cups water for 10 minutes; administered at bedtime.
TINCTURE = 0.5 to 1 ml, twice daily in water. Small doses of 5 to 15 drops over several weeks have been used to relieve bowel blockage patterns.
FLUID EXTRACT = 1 tsp at bedtime

Used for constipation and rheumatism.

Has been used for constipation in dogs, but dose is critical and must be administered by a professional.

The extract with the bitter principle removed has been used as a flavoring for soft drinks, baked goods and ice cream.

© 2005 by Ernestina Parziale, CH