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Cascara Sagrada Bark

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Cascara Sagrada Bark (Rhamnus purshiana)

Cascara Sagrada is the aged and dried bark of a small tree that is most predominantly found in the Pacific Northwest. It is from the Buckthorn family. The bark is made to age for at least a year so that the active ingredients in it become milder.


The Cascara Sagrada is said to be the largest species of Buckthorn as it can grow to be roughly 15 meters tall. The diameter of its trunk is 20-50 cm and the bark is a brownish to silver-grey color with light colored splotching throughout. The leaves are oval shaped and deciduous. They are also dark and shiny green on top and paler green on the lower side. The tree grows best in soil that is moist and acidic.

History and Origin

The Cascara Sagrada is a natural laxative that is a native of the American Pacific Northwest. The bark is mostly harvested from wild trees in Oregon, Washington State and in British Columbia in Canada. In fact, this plant can be found along the coastline from Canada to California. The Native Americans who then passed their knowledge of this bark to the Spanish explorers were the first to use it. From then on it became known as Cascara Sagrada, which means ‘sacred bark’. It was introduced into Western medicine as a herbal laxative in the year 1877. By 1978 its use pharmaceutically increased to ease chronic constipation.

Ancient Uses

The bark of the Cascara Sagrada was traditionally used to curb the habit of nail biting. The most common use in ancient times was to cure constipation. It was also used to cure liver ailments and jaundice. Native American groups used it extensively as a laxative. In 1890 it replaced berries growing on European Buckthorn as an official laxative.

Modern Uses

Today, this plant can be found in many pharmacies in the United States as an over the counter laxative. The dried and aged Cascara Sagrada bark is also used as a treatment for constipation. The bark contains certain compounds called anthraquinones. These compounds are acted upon by the intestinal bacteria and converted into substances that increase peristalsis in the large intestine. This helps the stomach restore its tone. It works as an excellent laxative when taken properly and at a safe dosage. It can also be used as a postoperative cure in case of a rectal surgery. It is extremely mild thereby making it safe for very elderly people and also children. It helps reduce pain associated with hemorrhoids and anal fissures. It ensures smooth bowel movement within 6-8 hours of dosage consumption.

Side Effects

Cascara Sagrada is not recommended for pregnant or breast-feeding mothers as it is known to cross placental barriers to reach the fetus. It is excreted in breast milk, which increases the risk of diarrhea in a breast-fed baby. It can be used cautiously before pregnancy but is generally best avoided. It is known to cause abdominal cramping and at times dehydration due to electrolyte imbalance. Long term use of cascara Sagrada bark extract has shown the development of hepatitis. Laxative dependence is another major side effect and therefore it should be used only when needed.

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