Cascara (Rhamanus purshianus)
Also known as California Buckthorn, chittem bark and Bearberry, Cascara is native to the Pacific Northwest, ranging from British Columbia, Canada through Washington, Oregon and into California. This small deciduous tree can grow to a height of 15 meters tall. Tiny flowers appear in spring that ripen into purplish-black berries. It has been used medicinally for at least 1,000 years. Commercially, the herb is called cascara sagrada, which is "sacred bark" in Spanish. This tree is harder to find in the wild than it used to be.
Key Medicinal Uses
Internally Cascara is a mild natural laxative and has been used for centuries to treat constipation. It works by increasing the peristalsis action of the intestines to help them to evacuate stool. the herb is safe to use with elderly patients. It is also used in herbal remedies for colitis, hemorrhoids, liver problems, jaundice and digestive ailments.
Externally Cascara bark extracts are used to stop habitual nail biting.
Bark The dried bark of the cascara tree is used medicinally. For proper use, the bark must be dried for an entire year. Fresh bark induces vomiting.
Some medications may interact with this herb. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use it. Children under the age of 12 should not use this herb unless under the care of a physician. If you have Crohn's disease, an intestinal obstruction, appendicitis or abdominal pain, do not use cascara. Long term use may weaken the function of the bowels. It will also cause low electrolytes, especially potassium. Low potassium can lead to abnormal heart function and increase the effects of digitalis-like medications, which can be fatal. Excessive doses can result in vomiting and diarrhea.
Preparation and Dosage
Cascara can be found in capsules, as extracts and as dried bark. Up to 20 to 30 mg of cascarosides can be taken per day, although you should try to aim for the smallest amount necessary. As a tincture, you can take ¼ to 1 teaspoon per day. Always drink enough water while using this herb. Eight 6 ounce glasses per day are usually sufficient. Any herbal medicine containing this herb should only be used for eight to ten days in a row at maximum. Tea can be prepared from the bark, but it is extremely bitter. You may find it more palatable to take an extract or capsule.
Several small doses of cascara are more effective than large doses, which may cause colic. For the best results, flush the bowels first with an astringent agent so the constipation does not become chronic.