What is It?
Most medicinal preparations of buckthorn bark are made from the European buckthorn shrub, also known as black dogwood (Rhamnus frangula), which is native to Europe and western parts of Asia. The bark of the trunks and branches is dried and seasoned.
A species of buckthorn grown throughout northern California and British Columbia–California Buckthorn ( Rhamnus pursiana ), also known as cascara sagrada–has chemical and medicinal properties similar to the European buckthorn and is sometimes used in healing as well.
Buckthorn bark has been used medicinally since at least the 1600s, when it was listed in a primary medical reference called the London Pharmacopeia. Although most herbs have had a wide variety of traditional uses, later refined to a single or a few proven benefits, buckthorn bark throughout its history has been consistently used to relieve one ailment: constipation and its by-products (hemorrhoids and anal irritation).
In addition to its medicinal uses, the bark and leaves provide a bright yellow-red dye that has been used for centuries to color textiles.
Buckthorn bark contains compounds called anthraquinones, which have a strong purgative, laxative effect on the body. Because these compounds are powerful, before being processed into laxative products the bark is aged for a year, or heated and dried.
Specifically, buckthorn bark may help to:
Ease constipation. The compounds in buckthorn bark increase the colon’s ability to spontaneously contract. They also reduce water absorption by the intestines, which means more liquid is left in the colon. This produces larger volume and softer stools, which in turn eases constipation.
Treat hemorrhoids and anal fissures. Because buckthorn bark is an effective stool softener, it can make bowel movements more comfortable for people with hemorrhoids or anal fissures, or who are recovering from recto-anal surgery. Sometimes, buckthorn bark is also used to cleanse the colon in preparation for gastrointestinal diagnostic procedures.
–It is important NOT to use fresh-cut buckthorn bark, which is far too powerful. Only the dried and aged preparations are recommended. These are typically made into a fluid Extract.
–The optimal dose is the smallest one that generates a softer stool.
For constipation: Take 15 to 30 drops liquid extract at bedtime OR 1 or 2 capsules at bedtime.
For hemorrhoids and anal fissures: Take 15 to 30 drops liquid extract at bedtime OR 1 or 2 capsules at bedtime.
If used for too long a period, like any laxative, buckthorn bark can reduce your body’s absorption of other medications. Overuse can cause a potassium deficiency that can affect heartbeat-regulating drugs, particularly if you are also taking diuretics or Corticosteroids.
Possible Side Effects
Buckthorn bark can cause intestinal cramping, particularly if too large a dose is used.
Do not use buckthorn bark over an extended period (1 to 2 weeks) without medical advice. Overuse or abuse of stimulating laxatives can cause intestinal sluggishness and worsen your condition.
Don’t take buckthorn bark if you are pregnant or breast-feeding.
Don’t take buckthorn bark if you have an intestinal obstruction or an acute intestinal Inflammation, such as Crohn’s disease or colitis.
For product recommendations and orders from the Natural Apothecary click here or call 773-296-6700, ext. 2001.
David Edelberg, MD