Other Names of Buckthorn: Buckthorn is known by different names depending on its locality. This herb grows all over the world and is referred to differently everywhere.
- Purging buckthorn
- Rhamnus frangula L.
- Rhamnus cathartica L.
- Alder buckthorn
- Dyer’s buckthorn
- Italian buckthorn
- Hollyleaf buckthorn
- European black alder
- European buckthorn
- Persian berries
- Common buckthorn
Buckthorn, known most commonly as purging buckthorn, is from Rhamnaceae family of plants and is usually classified as a deciduous tree. This family of plants consists of at least 100 varieties of shrubs and small trees. It is often mixed up with sea buckthorn.
These shrubs are found in temperate regions in the Northern and Southern hemisphere. The small trees can grow up to a height of 10 meters with leaves that can be up to 15 centimeters long. The leaves are usually shiny and dark green. The berries of this plant are dark blue in color. The characteristic name of this herb comes from a telltale woody spine that is found in the plant. The plant flowers in May and June.
The berries are also used to make dyes. These berries, when picked unripe and dried, are called Sappo berries. Different stages of ripeness can give you different colors including yellow, black and purple.
Nutritional information and Properties: The plant contains anthraquinone glycosides, acids like ascorbic acid, pectins, flavonoids, tannins, and anthocyanins. The seeds contain Glucofrangulin and frangulin, Emodin and emodinanthrone.
Health Benefits and Therapeutic Uses of Buckthorn
- The plant helps clean toxins from the body.
- It can be strongly purgative and it is therefore used in the treatment of constipation. In some cases, where a patient has had rectal surgery, this herb is given so that the patient has soft stools that do not aggravate the surgery area. Due to its bitter taste and strength, it is often used as the last resort treatment.
- Its diuretic properties help cleanse the blood.
- This herb is used for liver, gall bladder problems and intestinal problems in people.
- Home treatments for colic, obesity, dropsy and hemorrhoids, all use buckthorn.
- The herb can also be used in small quantities, in the treatment of certain skin problems like that of warts as also in relieving itching.
- The berries infusion or syrup, when had hot, can induce perspiration and help in reducing fever.
- This mixture can also treat lead poisoning, gout, rheumatism, and expel parasites.
Warnings and Exceptions
- This herb is usually recommended for short and small doses.
- This herb has contraindications for pregnant or breast feeding women.
- This herb is also not advised for children.
- This herb also has not external use and is rarely used in aromatherapy applications too.
- This herb is also better avoided if you have aggravated forms of intestinal diseases like appendicitis or Crohn’s disease.
- The fresh berries and bark are known to cause poisoning. The best bark that can be used is bark that is 3 to 4 years old. It is important to age the bark for a year at least. Once you have the bark, keep it in storage for a year. You can even dry the bark in the oven and then store it.
The fruit is purgative but not seriously poisonous
The bark is collected in the spring or early summer, when it easily peels from the tree.
If the Buckthorn bark is to be used, it should be dried from 1 to 2 years before use.
Because the bark contains high levels of phenolic compounds it must be dried for a year before use, although ingestion of buckthorn tea or tincture can be toxic in large amounts.
Secondary compounds, particularly emodin, have been found in the fruit, leaves, and bark of the plant, and may protect it from insects, herbivores and pathogens The emodin present in R. cathartica fruit may prevent early consumption, as it is found most in unripe fruits, which allows seeds to reach maturity before being dispersed. Birds and mice significantly avoid eating unripe fruits, and if forced to ingest emodin or unripe fruit, the animals regurgitate the meal or produce loose, watery stools.
Allelopathic effects of exudates from R. cathartica leaf litter, roots, bark, leaves and fruit may reduce germination of other plant species in the soil. Soils in buckthorn-dominated areas are higher in nitrogen and carbon than normal soils, which speeds up decomposition rates of leaf litter. This can result in bare patches of soil being formed and R. cathartica performs well in such disturbed habitats, so this may be adaptive for the setting of its seed.
General useAll three types of buckthorn are strong laxatives. The berries of R. cathartica produce the harshest laxative effect (cathartica is a Latin word related to "catharsis", which means purging). The fruit can be used either dried or fresh to treat constipation and to soften stools to give relief from hemorrhoids , anal fissures, or rectal surgery. The berries are also sometimes mixed with other herbs in "blood purifying" formulas.
The dried bark of R. frangula and R. purshianus is also used as laxatives. In earlier times it was used to cleanse the gastrointestinal tract before exploratory surgery. Occasionally buckthorn is used in veterinary medicine as a laxative for dogs.
The laxative effect of all these species is well documented. Buckthorn works by stimulating the large intestine to contract. The contractions shorten the time that waste material remains in the large intestine and allow the formation of softer, moist stools.
In addition to medical uses, buckthorn contains several different pigments used as dyes: yellow from the leaves and bark, green from unripe berries, and blue-gray from ripe berries. R. frangula is also a source of high-quality charcoal used for artistic sketching.
PreparationsThe berries of R. cathartica are harvested when ripe. If used fresh, they can be pressed to yield a bitter, extremely foul-tasting juice that can be mixed with sugar and flavorings to produce a laxative syrup. The dried berries are powdered, then added to liquid.
The bark of R. frangula and R. purshianus is harvested in the summer and dried. Young bark is preferred, because the longer the bark is stored, the less potent its laxative properties. Bark used medicinally should be stored at least one year before use. Fresh bark acts as an irritant to the gastrointestinal system. A fluid extract or a decoction is then prepared from the bark and mixed with water and flavorings. The ideal dose is the smallest amount necessary to produce soft stools.
PrecautionsBuckthorn should not be used by people suspected of having appendicitis or intestinal obstructions, by pregnant or breastfeeding women, the frail elderly, or children under age 12.
Side effectsBuckthorn can cause nausea, vomiting , and gastrointestinal spasms in large doses or in sensitive individuals. Buckthorn causes stool to move more rapidly through the large intestine and allows the body less time to reabsorb fluids and electrolytes. Because of this rapid movement, electrolytes can be lost if stools are too frequent and watery. The long-term use of buckthorn can cause potassium imbalances. In rare cases this imbalance can cause heart irregularities, edema , and other serious health reactions.
InteractionsPotassium imbalance is worsened by taking thiazide diuretics, corticosteroids, and licorice root.
It made its first appearance in the London Pharmacopoeia in 1650 and was still listed in the British Pharmacopoeia of 1867, but at the turn of that century, it was mainly being used by vets for treating animals. For human consumption the juice of the berries was boiled with aniseed, cardamom, mastica and nutmeg to disguise the taste.
The ripe berries of this plant yield a yellow dye which has been used for colouring paper, while the bark produces a black dye. The berries have a also been used to make a green pigment for water colours.
Buckthorn was well known to the AngloSaxons and is mentioned as Hartsthorn or Waythorn in their medical writings and glossaries dating before the Norman Conquest. The Welsh physicians of the thirteenth century prescribed the juice of the fruit of Buckthorn boiled with honey as an aperient drink.
The medicinal use of the berries was familiar to all the writers on botany and materia medica of the sixteenth century, though Dodoens in his Herbal wrote: 'They be not meat to be administered but to the young and lusty people of the country which do set more store of their money than their lives.'
Until late in the nineteenth century, syrup of Buckthorn ranked, however, among favourite rustic remedies as a purgative for children, prepared by boiling the juice with pimento and ginger and adding sugar, but its action was so severe that, as time went on, the medicine was discarded.
It first appeared in the London Pharmacopceia of 1650, where, to disguise the bitter taste of the raw juice, it was aromatized by means of aniseed, cinnamon, mastic and nutmeg. It was still official in the British Pharmacopoeia of 1867, but is no longer so, being regarded as a medicine more fit for animals than human beings, and it is now employed almost exclusively in veterinary practice, being commonly prescribed for dogs, with equal parts of castor oil as an occasional purgative.
The flesh of birds eating the berries is stated to be purgative.
There used to be a superstition that the Crown of Thorns was made of Buckthorn.
Cultivation---Frangula bark is usually collected from wild shrubs, but this Buckthorn can readily be cultivated. The seeds should be sown as soon as ripe, not kept till the following spring. The seedlings should be kept free from weeds, and in the autumn planted in the nursery in rows 2 feet asunder and 1 foot distant in the rows. Stock may also be increased by layers and cuttings, though propagation by seedling plants is preferable.
Dried seasoned bark from one to twoyears old alone should be used, as the freshlystripped bark acts as an irritant poison on the gastro-intestinal canal. The action of the bark becomes gradually less violent when kept for a length of time and more like that of rhubarb.
It is used as a gentle purgative in cases of chronic constipation and is principally given in the form of the fluid extract, in small doses, repeated three or four times daily, a decoction of 1 OZ. of the bark in 1 quart of water boiled down to a pint, may also be taken in tablespoonful doses.
Fluid extract, 1/2 to 2 drachms.
This milder English Buckthorn acts likewise as a tonic to the intestine and is especially useful for relieving piles.
Lozenges of the Alder Buckthorn are dispensed under the name of 'Aperient Fruit Lozenges.'
The juice of the berries, though little used, is aperient without being irritating.
Country people used to take the bark boiled in ale for jaundice.
More about Backthorn
The berries are the part used medicinally, collected when ripe and from which an acrid, nauseous, bitter juice is obtained by expression. From this juice, with the addition of sugar and aromatics, syrup of Buckthorn (Succus Rhamni) is prepared.
When freshly gathered in the autumn, the berries are about 1/3 inch in diameter, with the remains of a calyx beneath. The fruit is collected for use chiefly in the counties of Herts., Bucks. and Oxon, and is usually expressed in the locality where it is grown, by the collectors themselves, who sell the juice to the wholesale druggists, generally more or less diluted with water, the admixture being generally about 6 parts water to 1 of juice.
From the dried berries, a series of rich but fugitive colours is obtained; the berries used to be sold under the name of 'French berries' and imported with those of Rhamnus infectorius from the Levant. If gathered before ripe, the berries furnish a yellow dye, used formerly for staining maps or paper. When ripe, if mixed with gum-arabic and limewater, they form the pigment 'Sap or bladder green,' so well known to water-colour painters. The bark also affords a yellow dye.