Rhamnus cathartica, R. frangula

The Common Buckthorn is indigenous to North Africa, the greater part of Europe and North Asia. Its blossoms are very enjoyable to bees.

Other names: Hartsthorn, Common Buckthorn, Purging Buckthorn, Way thorn, High way thorn, Ramsthorn

The berries of Buckthorn are the part used medicinally. They are collected when ripe and from which an acrid, nauseous, bitter juice is obtained. From this juice, with the addition of sugar and aromatics, syrup of Buckthorn (Succus Rhamni) is created.

Once upon a time, a superstition existed that the Crown of Thorns placed on Christs’ head was made of Buckthorn.

Buckthorn as an Herb for Medicinal Uses

buckthornThe two year old bark (younger may cause violent vomiting) is used to kill several species of fungi, and has been found to be active against herpes simplex. It has been shown that the extract has been effective against candida, staphyloccocus, and tumors. Buckthorn is a strong purgative, and is similar in action to Cascara Sagrada, although not as mild.

Also used medically as a laxative and cathartic. For sluggish bowel a mild laxative is made with 1 to 2 teaspoons of bark to 1 pint of water boiled for at least 15 minutes then allowed to soak for 4 to 6 hours.

Until late in the nineteenth century, syrup of Buckthorn ranked as a favorite remedy as a purgative for children, prepared by boiling the juice with pimento and ginger and adding sugar, but its action was so severe that, as time went on, the medicine was discarded.

Buckthorn was long used as a safe, non-habit forming laxative and diuretic in tea and capsule form. Also used as a mouthwash for gum disease and mouth infections, in ointment for itching, in folk medicine for jaundice by boiling the bark in ale, as a liver tonic, mixed with vinegar for head lice and as a local antiseptic. It is said that honey produced from these plants is slightly laxative.

Buckthorn is used internally for constipation and for bowel movement relief in cases of anal fissures and hemorrhoids. It is used after recto-anal surgery and in preparation for diagnostic intervention in the gastrointestinal tract and to achieve softer stool.

Folk Medicine: In folk medicine it is used as a diuretic (in ‘blood-purifying’ remedies).

Alder Buckthorn

In place of the violently-acting juice of the berries of the Common Buckthorn, a fluid extract prepared from the bark of the milder Alder Buckthorn or Black Alder (Rhamnus Frangula, Linn.) has proven to be a very satisfactory substitute. The bark of Alder Buckthorn is nearly inodorous; its taste is pleasant, sweetish and slightly bitter. This milder English Buckthorn acts as a tonic to the intestine and is especially useful for relieving piles.

In cases of chronic constipation it is given in the form of a fluid extract, in small doses, repeated three or four times daily. The decoction consists of 1 ounce of the bark in 1 quart of water boiled down to a pint. May also be taken in tablespoonful doses. Lozenges of the Alder Buckthorn are sold under the name of ‘Aperient Fruit Lozenges.’

Sea Buckthorn

Sea Buckthorn is in no way related to the medicinally employed Buckthorns. In some parts of Europe the berries are considered poisonous.

Rousseau told a story of a person who saw him eating them, and, though believing them to be poisonous, had too much respect for the great man to caution him against the supposed danger!

The color may be extracted by hot water and used as a dye for wool but it is not very brilliant when so obtained. Some of these plants (Elaeagnaceae) are said to have narcotic properties.

Culinary Use of Buckthorn

Generally not recommended for culinary use other than in a therapeutic tea.

Buckthorn Tea: To prepare a tea, pour boiling water over 4 gm cut herb and strain after 10 to 15 minutes or put the drug in cold water, bring to boil, boil for 2 to 3 minutes and strain while still warm. (1 teaspoon corresponds to approximately 3.8 gm herb).

Daily dose: 1 cup of the tea mornings and evenings. The individual dose is the minimum dose required to produce a soft stool. Administration should be limited to a few days.

Storage: Buckthorn should be protected from light.


Spasmodic gastrointestinal complaints could occur as a side effect to the drug’s purgative effect. Long-term use leads to loss of electrolytes, especially potassium ions. Nephropathies, edema and accelerated bone deterioration may be the result of long term use.

Not to be used during pregnancy.

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