The healing power of cascara

Cascara is a tree from the buckthorn family that originally grows in North America. It can grow to a height of 15 meters and often has a shrubby appearance. The tree has edible berries and the wood is used for a variety of purposes; construction of houses, poles to firewood. The silver-gray bark of this tree has been used by Indians as a medicine for at least a millennium. The European settlers and immigrants adopted the use of cascara. It is a laxative par excellence. NB! This article is written from the personal view of the author and may contain information that is not scientifically substantiated and/or in line with the general view.

Botanical drawing cascara / Source: Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen, Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)


  • Naming
  • History of cascara use
  • Active substances
  • Cascara as a laxative
  • Cascara as a digestive aid
  • Dose and safety


In Latin this plant is called Frangula purshiana . In North America this natural medicine was known as cascara sagrada or ‘sacred bark’. The tree has a synonym in Latin: Rhamnus purshiana . In German, in addition to casara sagrada, it is also called American Faulbaum because its effect is similar to that of buckthorn and they are each other’s close relatives.

History of cascara use

The Indians have been using cascara as a laxative for at least 1,000 years. In the United States it was an official medicine from 1877. Before that, buckthorn or buckthorn was used as a laxative, also in Europe. In 1890, cascara was used more than spruce wood for its medicinal properties. In 1999, cascara bark made up 20% of the US laxative market and generated $100 million in sales. The FDA, the American version of the Food and Drug Administration, banned the drug in 2002.

Active substances

Only the bark of cascara is used. This is dried for a year. Fresh bark can cause vomiting and diarrhea. Cascara mainly contains anthracene derivatives. Such as the anthracene glycosides, cascaroside A and B as glycosides of aloin and cascaroside C and D as glycosides of chrysaloin. Furthermore, it contains hydrolyzable dianthrone O-heterosides and free anthracene derivatives. It also contains bitter substances.

Cascara as a laxative

The effect of cascara is similar to that of spruce wood or dirt wood. Cascara, however, has a slightly stronger effect. It is an adequately effective laxative. It is mainly anthraquinones that are effective. They reduce water absorption and improve intestinal peristalsis. Cascara is used in phytotherapy for:

  • Thereto sluggishness without urgency and cramps,
  • Constipation,
  • Treatment for hemorrhoids,
  • Accelerated emptying of the intestines.

Cascara as a digestive aid

Cascara is a bittering agent and strengthens the stomach. Bitter agents stimulate bile secretion and thereby promote liver function. It is a means that supports digestion as a whole. For these reasons it can be used by phytotherapists for:

Edible cascara berries / Source: Jesse Taylor, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-3.0)

  • Gallstones,
  • Decreased appetite or anorexia,
  • Weak digestion,
  • Impaired liver function.

Cascara infusion tastes disgustingly bitter. You can apply it to the nails to prevent you from unknowingly biting your nails.

Dose and safety

Always use the indicated dose and be informed by a herbal therapist before using the herb.

  • 40 drops of mother tincture three times a day,
  • 0.5 to 2 grams of liquid extract per day,
  • In the evening a decoction of two teaspoons per day,
  • 500mg to 2 grams of powder per day in the evening.

Cascara bark should not be sold without warning. It is more irritating than buckthorn bark.

  • Fresh bark always induces emetic; only bark herb that has been drying for a year should be used.
  • Use of cascara should be accompanied by drinking at least five glasses of water of 200 ml per day,
  • The bark should not be used for more than eight days. It has been found that after two weeks of daily use, a potassium deficiency can develop in the patient.
  • It should not be used during pregnancy and lactation,
  • People with Crohn’s disease, intestinal and stomach cramps, spastic colon and other intestinal diseases should avoid this drug.