Cascara sagrada is the dried, aged bark of a small tree in the buckthorn family native to the Pacific Northwest. The bark is aged for a year so that the active principles become milder, as freshly dried bark produces too strong a laxative for safe use; it also contains a compound that induces vomiting.

The name cascara sagrada is Spanish for “sacred bark”.

Long used as a laxative by Native American groups of the northwest Pacific coast, cascara sagrada bark was not introduced into formal medical practice in the United States until 1877. It is still used in over-the-counter laxatives available in every pharmacy in the United States. It is mild and is frequently used as a natural solution for the elderly suffering constipation.

Cascara Sagrada as an Herb for Medicinal Uses

cascaraDried, aged cascara sagrada bark is widely accepted as a mild and effective treatment for chronic constipation. A simple laxative has been made by pouring boiling water over a bit of pulverized bark and allowing to cool, although it was not usually taken as a tea, the decoction or tincture having been preferred. Must be combined with fennel or caraway to prevent griping.

Only the aged bark should be used. Cascara Segrada is used for constipation, relief of defecation with anal fissures, hemorrhoids, and as a recto-anal post-operative treatment. The herb is also used in preparation of diagnostic procedures of the gastrointestinal tract and to obtain a soft stool.

Common Cascara Sagrada Remedies

  • Constipation.
  • Colon Disorders.
  • Liver Problems.
  • Poor Digestion.
  • Colitis.
  • Hemorrhoids.
  • Skin Problems.

In folk medicine, Cascara is used as a tonic and for cleaning wounds.

Homeopathic Uses: The herb is used for rheumatism and as a digestive aid.

Cascara sagrada has also been used externally to discourage nail biting, plus research has been conducted to explore Cascara’s possible effects on Herpes Simplex.

Did you know?

Native American Indians and later immigrant Americans used it continually for over 1,000 years as a natural laxative. It is still the main ingredient in many over the counter laxatives sold in North America today.

Cascara Sagrada may also prevent the pressure and pain associated with hemorrhoids and anal fissures.

Cascara is a small to medium-size tree native to the provinces and states of the Pacific Coast, including British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, Northern California and Mexico. The Cascara tree has been used by many tribes of peoples indigenous to the region, stretching from British Columbia to California.


American Indians and early Spanish Priests in California made a cold infusion by soaking a piece of bark overnight and then took it as a tome. They also prepared a laxative potion by boiling fresh bark for several hours and then letting it cool. The Spanish name “sacred bark” is because they believed that it is the same wood as was used to build the Ark of the Covenant.

Culinary Uses of Cascara Sagrada

Generally this herb is not used for culinary purposes. Tea perhaps; but, Cascara sagrada prepared as a tea is not popular because of its extremely bitter taste and the availability of standardized pharmaceutical preparations that perform the same functions.


The tree has been referenced as the “defecation tree”.


You should not use Cascara Sagrada or any other laxative if you have appendicitis, Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis. Not recommended for children under 12. Unlike buckthorn, cascara sagrada is not known to be safe for pregnant women and nursing mothers.

Cascara is not to be administered to children under 12 years of age under any circumstances.

Spasmodic gastrointestinal complaints can occur as a side effect to the drug’s purgative effect. In rare cases, prolonged use may lead to heart arrhythmias, nephropathies, edema and accelerated bone deterioration. Intake of the fresh rind could lead to European cholera, intestinal colic, bloody diarrhea and kidney irritation.

If you have chronic constipation, see your doctor for other approaches to avoid laxative dependency.

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