Rhamnus purshiana – Cascara Sagrada
Cascara Sagrada – Rhamnus purshiana
Rhamnus = ram-nus, from the Greek word for various prickly shrubs;
purshiana = after Frederick Pursh, botanist;
Identification: This tall shrub or small tree stands from 3 – 12 m tall and has a trunk diameter of 10 – 40 cm. The leaves are dark green, oblong, 5 – 15 cm long and 6 cm wide. The flowers are quite small, greenish white and found in axillary clusters. The fruit is black and 0.5 – 1.5 cm in diameter.
Distribution & Habitat: Cascara can be found in relatively moist, low-lying, forested habitats from British Columbia to California and east to Montana.
Preparation & Uses: The bark of this herb has been found to be one of the most effective laxative cathartics. I would have to say that in my herbal practice I use more of this herb than any other (in the form of Laxaherb or LBT-3). The words “Cascara Sagrada” come from Spanish meaning “holy bark”. This bark is a component in many of the commercial herbal laxative mixtures found in North America and Europe. The laxative effect of Cascara is not habit forming like some herb laxatives (e.g. senna) as it exercises the colon muscles. As a result, after six months of use, one can lower the dose or completely eliminate it, still maintaining active bowels. Indians also used this bark as a laxative.
The bark can be gathered from mid-April to the end of August. It should be stored for at least one year before use. The chemical structure changes during this time to make it less griping and more effective. About 3 million pounds of this bark are harvested annually.