Rhamnus purshiana

Image I

Image II

Botanical Name: Rhamnus purshiana
Common name: Buckthorn, Cascara sagrada (Heinrich, Barnes, Gibbons & Williamson, 2012, p. 204).
Family: Rhamnaceae (Heinrich et al., 2012, p. 204).
Part used: Bark (Heinrich et al., 2012, p. 204).

  • Active constituents:

  • Cascarosides A, B, C, D, E and F (stereoisomeres of aloin and derivatives) (Heinrich et al., 2012, p. 204).
  • Anthraquinone Glycosides
  • Anthrone and dianthrone glycosides -have emetic effects (Heinrich et al., 2012, p. 204).



  • Laxative (Heinrich et al., 2012, p. 51).
  • Purgative (Heinrich et al., 2012, p. 204).
  • Emetic (Heinrich et al., 2012, p. 204).
  • Bitter tonic (Hoffmann, 1990, p. 188)


Indications (contemporary)

Native to Pacific coast of North America (Heinrich et al., 2012, p. 204). Anthraquinone Glycosides are stimulant laxatives that act on the large intestine (Hoffmann, 2003, p. 201). In extreme cases of hypothyroidism related constipation (Hoffmann, 2003, p. 462).



Due to emetic effects of active constituents anthrone and dianthrone, the herb is often kept for a year or “aged artificially” via heating, in order to oxidise these into anthraquinones, which have fewer undesirable side effects (Heinrich et al., 2012, p. 204).



Decoction: 1-2 teaspoons/1 cup of water
Tincture: 1-2mL
*To be taken before sleep.
(Hoffmann, 1990, p. 188)



  • At high doses Anthraquinone Glycosides are gastrointestinal irritants. (Hoffmann, 2003, p. 201). Abuse may result in pseudomelanosis coli, which is associated with colorectal carcinoma (Hoffmann, 2003, p. 265). While short-term use is generally safe, long term use is not recommended (Hoffmann, 2003, p. 265)
  • As a strong laxative Rhamnus palmatum is contraindicated in pregnancy (Hoffmann, 2003, p. 394).



Should be combined with aromatics and carminatives (e.g. Liquorice) (Hoffmann, 1990, p. 188).



Heinrich, M., Barnes, J., Gibbons, S., & Williamson, E. (2012). Fundamentals of Pharmacognosy and Phytotherapy (2nd ed.). Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier.

Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester Vermont: Healing Arts Press.

Hoffmann, D. (1990). Holistic Herbal. London: Thorsons

Image I: McCguigan & Krug. (1942). Color Illustrations from “An Introduction to Materia Medica and Pharmacology. Retrieved from: http://wolf.mind.net/swsbm/Images/New10-2003.html

Image II: Oregon State University. (n.d.). Common Trees of the Pacific Northwest. Retrieved from: http://oregonstate.edu/trees/broadleaf_genera/species/cascara_buckthorn.htm

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