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Buckthorn

Buckthorn

Description

Buckthorn is the common name for one of several species of shrubs or small trees of the genus Rhamnus that are used for medicinal purposes. The two most common species are R. frangula and R. cathartica.

R. cathartica is also called common or European buckthorn. It was known as a healing herb hundreds of years ago in Anglo-Saxon England, where it was called waythorn, highwaythorn, hartshorn, or ramsthorn. It is also sometimes called purging buckthorn because of its laxative properties. The berries of European buckthorn can be used in healing. The ripe berries of this species are black and the size of a pea.

R. cathartica is a shrubby tree that grows to a height of about 18 ft (6 m). Its twigs are often tipped with small spines, accounting for the "thorn" in its name. Common buckthorn is found throughout Great Britain, continental Europe, and North Africa, where it grows wild in partial sun along the edges of roads and woodlands. It was introduced into North America as an ornamental landscaping plant, but it has naturalized and become a nuisance plant in much of Canada and the northern United States, where its thick growth crowds out native plants.

R. frangula is shorter, wider, and more shrublike than R. cathartica. It grows in damp soil in Great Britain, continental Europe, and parts of Turkey. It also has been imported into North America. Bark from the trunk and branches of R. frangula is gathered and used in preparing a laxative and a hepatic, or liver medication. R. frangula is also called alder buckthorn, black dogwood, frangula bark, alder dogwood, arrow wood, or Persian berries. It is not related to North American dogwood species.

A third species of healing Rhamnus, R. purshianus, grows in western North America and is called California buckthorn. Its bark also produces a laxative that is milder than those derived from either of the other two species. Sea buckthorn, Hippophae rhamnoides, although it is used in healing and shares a common name with these other species, is not related to the Rhamnus buckthorns, nor is it used in the same ways.

General use

All three types of buckthorn are strong laxatives. The berries of R. cathartica produce the harshest laxative effect (cathartica is a Latin word related to "catharsis", which means purging). The fruit can be used either dried or fresh to treat constipation and to soften stools to give relief from hemorrhoids , anal fissures, or rectal surgery. The berries are also sometimes mixed with other herbs in "blood purifying" formulas.

The dried bark of R. frangula and R. purshianus is also used as laxatives. In earlier times it was used to cleanse the gastrointestinal tract before exploratory surgery. Occasionally buckthorn is used in veterinary medicine as a laxative for dogs.

The laxative effect of all these species is well documented. Buckthorn works by stimulating the large intestine to contract. The contractions shorten the time that waste material remains in the large intestine and allow the formation of softer, moist stools.

In addition to medical uses, buckthorn contains several different pigments used as dyes: yellow from the leaves and bark, green from unripe berries, and blue-gray from ripe berries. R. frangula is also a source of high-quality charcoal used for artistic sketching.

Preparations

The berries of R. cathartica are harvested when ripe. If used fresh, they can be pressed to yield a bitter, extremely foul-tasting juice that can be mixed with sugar and flavorings to produce a laxative syrup. The dried berries are powdered, then added to liquid.

The bark of R. frangula and R. purshianus is harvested in the summer and dried. Young bark is preferred, because the longer the bark is stored, the less potent its laxative properties. Bark used medicinally should be stored at least one year before use. Fresh bark acts as an irritant to the gastrointestinal system. A fluid extract or a decoction is then prepared from the bark and mixed with water and flavorings. The ideal dose is the smallest amount necessary to produce soft stools.

Precautions

Buckthorn should not be used by people suspected of having appendicitis or intestinal obstructions, by pregnant or breastfeeding women, the frail elderly, or children under age 12.

Side effects

Buckthorn can cause nausea, vomiting , and gastrointestinal spasms in large doses or in sensitive individuals. Buckthorn causes stool to move more rapidly through the large intestine and allows the body less time to reabsorb fluids and electrolytes. Because of this rapid movement, electrolytes can be lost if stools are too frequent and watery. The long-term use of buckthorn can cause potassium imbalances. In rare cases this imbalance can cause heart irregularities, edema , and other serious health reactions.

Interactions

Potassium imbalance is worsened by taking thiazide diuretics, corticosteroids, and licorice root.

Resources

BOOKS

PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company, 1998.

OTHER

"Plants for the Future: Rhamnus cathartica and Rhamnus frangula." [cited January 17, 2001]. <http://www.metalab.unc.edu>

Tish Davidson

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"Buckthorn." Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Buckthorn." Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/buckthorn

"Buckthorn." Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. . Retrieved June 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/buckthorn

buckthorn

buckthorn, common name for some members of the Rhamnaceae, a family of woody shrubs, small trees, and climbing vines widely distributed throughout the world. The buckthorns (several species of the genus Rhamnus) and the jujube (Ziziphus jujuba) are cultivated for their ornamental foliage. The jujube was also used locally and exported for use in confectionery and as a flavoring, now largely replaced by artificial flavorings. The lotus of Tennyson's "Lotus-Eaters" is thought to have been the jujube. Other members of the family yield dyes and a limited amount of lumber, e.g., cogwood, a hardwood. Other American species of Rhamnus are the redberry, the Indian cherry, and, in California, Rhamnus purshiana, which yields the purgative cascara sagrada. Buckthorn is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Rhamnales.

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"buckthorn." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"buckthorn." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/buckthorn

"buckthorn." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved June 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/buckthorn

buckthorn

buck·thorn / ˈbəkˌ[unvoicedth]ôrn/ • n. 1. a typically thorny North American shrub or small tree (genus Rhamnus, family Rhamnaceae). Some kinds yield dyes, and others have been used medicinally. 2. a thorny shrub or small tree (Bumelia lycioides) of the sapodilla family, with clusters of small white flowers.

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"buckthorn." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"buckthorn." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/buckthorn

"buckthorn." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved June 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/buckthorn

buckthorn

buckthorn shrub Rhamnus catharticus. XVI. f. BUCK + THORN; transl. modL. cervi spina ‘stag's horn’.

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"buckthorn." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"buckthorn." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/buckthorn-0

"buckthorn." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Retrieved June 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/buckthorn-0

buckthorn

buckthorn See RHAMNACEAE.

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"buckthorn." A Dictionary of Plant Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"buckthorn." A Dictionary of Plant Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/buckthorn

"buckthorn." A Dictionary of Plant Sciences. . Retrieved June 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/buckthorn