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  • Rhamnus frangula L.
  • Rhamnus cathartica L.
  • Rhamnaceae
  • Buckthorn family

Common Names

herbsRhamnus frangula L.
herbsAlder buckthorn
herbsAlder dogwood
herbsBlack alder dogwood
herbsBlack alder tree
herbsBlack dogwood
herbsEuropean black alder
herbsEuropean buckthorn
herbsPersian berries - Rhamnus cathartica L.
herbsCommon buckthorn
herbsPurging buckthorn

Parts Usually Used

Rhamnus frangula L.
Bark, fruit

Rhamnus cathartica L.

Description of Plant(s) and Culture

Rhamnus frangula L.
Buckthorn, a shrub to 20 feet, or a tree to 25 feet; the spreading, thornless branches have green bark when young, turning to brownish-gray when older. The light olive-green leaves are alternate, obovate, slightly toothed or entire, and glabrous. The 5-petaled, green flowers grow in axillary clusters, 2-6 flowers per axil. The fruit is a 3-seeded berry-like drupe that turns from green through red to purplish-black and has a greenish-brown pulp.

Rhamnus cathartica L.
Common buckthorn is a deciduous shrub, up to 12 feet high; its branchlets are usually tipped with sharp spines; and its opposite pairs or elliptic, crenate-serrate leaves grow in opposite pairs on the stems and branches. In May and June, small, greenish or yellowish flowers appear in two-to-five-flowered axillary clusters. The fruit is a black, fleshy berry-like drupe.

Another variety: Cascara sagrada (R. purshiana)

Where Found

Rhamnus frangula L.
Found in Europe, Asia, and eastern United States; in hedges, thickets, at edges of woods.

Rhamnus cathartica L.
Found in swamps and damp places in northern and northeastern United States, as well as Europe.

Medicinal Properties

Rhamnus frangula L.
Purgative, diuretic, emetic, vermifuge (fruit is purgative)

Rhamnus cathartica L.
Diuretic, purgative, alterative

Biochemical Information

Rhamnus cathartica L.
Various glycosides, rhamnoemodine and shesterine in the fruits; the bark contains rhamnicoside

Legends, Myths and Stories

Buckthorn berries are used as dye for different purposes. Picked unripe, the berries, kept dry, are called Sappe berries; steeped in alum water gives a yellow dye (used by painters, bookbinders to color the edges of books, and leather craftsmen.

Picked when they are black make a green dye if they are bruised and put in a brass or copper kettle for 3-4 days, some alum added and mixture heated a little, then dried.

The third color is purple, made from berries ripened on the vine to maturity, usually until the end of November and are ready to drop off.


Rhamnus frangula L.
Good for constipation without irritating the system, with no backlash as other purgatives do. Also used for the liver and gallbladder problems, colic, obesity, dropsy, and hemorrhoids. The bark steeped in red or white wine has laxative properties.

Rhamnus cathartica L.
The dried, ripe berries of the common buckthorn were used as a purgative in the 9th century. The dried berries can be eaten or an infusion made from them has a purgative effect, even for chronic constipation. Taken hot, it induces perspiration and lowers fever. Small doses are mild laxative, helps eliminate toxins, treat gallstones, lead poisoning, gout, rheumatism, dropsy, ointment relieves itching, reduces fever if given hot, expels parasites and worms, skin diseases. The ointment is effective for treating warts. Fresh berries may be made into a syrup.

Formulas or Dosages

Rhamnus frangula L.
The best bark is from branches that are 3-4 years old. Age the bark for at least a year before use; after 3 years it begins to weaken. Fresh bark should not be used.

Decoction: use 1 tsp. bark with 1/2 cup cold water. Bring to a boil. Drink before going to bed. Use no more than 1/2 oz. of bark per day.

Cold extract: use 1 tsp. bark with 1/2 cup cold water. Let stand for 12 hours. Drink in the evening.

Tincture: a dose is from 5-20 drops.

Rhamnus cathartica L.

Berries: adults take 1/10 to 2/10 oz. dried berries; children take 1/2 as much.

Syrup: boil fresh berry juice with sugar to get a syrupy consistency. Adults take 1 to 2 tbsp; children 1/2 tsp.


Rhamnus frangula L.
Buckthorn should not be used during pregnancy. Fresh bark and unripe fruit can cause symptoms of poisoning. Storage for a year or heating to 212 degrees F. will render the bark safe.

Rhamnus cathartica L.
Excessive doses of the berries can produce poisoning.

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