Cascara Sagrada is a small species of buckthorn tree that grows up to 20 feet in height. It is a member of the Rhamnaceae family, found in Northern California and throughout the Pacific Northwest East towards Montana. It’s often found along streams in mixed deciduous and coniferous forests of valleys, and in moist montane forests. It’s a common understory tree of big leaf maple forests, alongside red osier dogwood and red alder. It has simple, deciduous leaves that are arranged alternately and clustered near the ends of twigs. They are oval, shiny and green on top, and a dull, paler green below with a serrated margins, and conspicuous parallel veins. It’s bark is reddish brown to silvery with light lichen splotching. The inner surface of the bark is smooth and yellow, which browns at exposure to sunlight. In the mid-spring, Cascara Sagrada briefly produces tiny flowers that grow in umbel shaped clusters with five greenish yellow petals that form a cup shape. The flowers mature into a red drupe that quickly changes to deep purple or black; it containing yellow pulp, and two or three hard, smooth, olive-green or black seeds. Due to over-harvesting largely in part to early white settlers, the tree is not found in abundance in the wild.
Parts Used: Bark
Useful for chronic constipation, cascara sagrada encourages peristalsis while toning and relaxing the smooth muscles of the digestive system. Although it is less likely to cause intestinal cramping than other laxatives, this is still a possible side effect. It can be used as a daily tonic laxative, and is also useful for colitis and hemorrhoids. It is not suitable for children under two.
Cascara Sagrada, or “sacred bark”, was named so by early Spanish explorers of the 16th century after it’s reliving effects were introduced to them by the Native Americans. During the California gold rush of the mid 19th century, it gained another name of “chittem bark”, a polite variant of it’s more common name at the time, “shittin’ bark”. It’s also an Appalachian folk treatment for cancer.
Flavor Profile and Energetics
Bitter, cold and cooling, pungent
A decoction of 1-2 teaspoon of the dried bark per cup of water, infused for 10 minutes and taken at bedtime. As a tincture, 1-2ml at bedtime. Fresh, the bark causes violent diarrhea and severe cramping, however, when dried, the chemical constituents are changed and the herb has much milder actions.
Combines well with licorice, and other aromatic carminatives such as mint and fennel.
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