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Herb Information
Name: Cascara
Biological Name: Rhamnus purshiana


Other Names: Cascara sagrada, sacred bark, Purshiana bark, persian bark, chittem bark, bearberry, California buchthorn, Cascara
Parts Used: bark
Active Compounds:  

Cascara bark is high in hydroxyanthraquinone glycosides called cascarosides. Resins, tannins, and lipids make up the bulk of the other bark ingredients. Cascarosides have a cathartic action, inducing the large intestine to increase its muscular contraction (peristalsis), resulting in bowel movement.

The basis of Cascara's laxative effect is the presence of a mixture of anthraquinones, either free (aloe-emodin) or as sugar derivatives (glycosides). The free anthraquinones remain in the intestines and cause catharsis by irritating the intestinal wall. Those anthraquinones present in the plant as sugar derivatives are largely absorbed from the intestine, circulate through the blood stream, and eventually stimulate the nerve center in the lower part of the intestine, which causes a laxative effect. 

No synthetic substance can match the mild and speedy action of the holy bark. It is marketed in pills, powders, and fluidextracts by many pharmaceutical companies.


Northern California Indians introduced this herb, which they called sacred bark, to sixteenth-century Spanish explorers. Being much milder in its laxative action than the herb buckthorn, cascara became popular in Europe as a treatment for constipation. Cascara has been part of the U.S. Pharmacopoeia since 1890. The bark is very bitter and disagreeable to the taste of many people. Take it immediately after meals, or upon retiring

Remedies For

Purgative, bitter tonic

Cascara is useful for the treatment of:


Cascara is a purgative and a bitter tonic.

It is one of the oldest, time-proven, and most reliable remedies for chronic constipation. It is not habit forming. It is a good intestinal tonic. An excellent remedy for gallstones and increases the secretion of bile. Good for liver complaints; especially enlarged liver.

Aqueous extracts of Cascara have been found to be antiviral against herpes Simplex virus II and vaccinia virus in cell culture.


Cascara is a small-to medium-size tree native to the provinces and states of the Pacific coast, including British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and Northern California. The bark of the tree is removed, cut into small pieces, and dried for one year before being used medicinally.

Fresh bark has an emetic, or vomit-inducing, property and therefore is not used.


Only the dried form of cascara should be used. Two capsules containing dried cascara can be taken up to two times per day. As a tincture, 1-5 ml per day is generally taken. It is important to drink eight 6-ounce glasses of water throughout the day. Cascara should be taken for a maximum of eight to ten days.

Home preparation: Boil 1 tsp. Of bark in a covered container of 1.5 pints of water for about 0.5 hour, at a slow boil. Allow liquid to cool slowly in the closed container. Drink cold, 1 swallow or 1 tbsp. at a time, 1 to 2 cups per day.


Women who are pregnant or lactating should not use cascara without the advice of a physician. Those with an intestinal obstruction should not employ this herb. 

Long-term use or abuse of cascara may cause a loss of electrolytes (especially the mineral potassium) or weaken the colon. 

Loss of potassium may potentiate the action of digitalis-like medications with fatal consequences.

Fresh bark should not be used. It should be at least one year old prior to usage.

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