Buckthorn, also referred to as black alder, is an herb that comes from the bark of the stems and branches of the rhamnus frangula tree. The bark is aged for up to a year or heat-treated because consuming untreated fresh buckthorn irritates the protective mucosa lining in the stomach and can cause severe gastrointestinal irritations, spasms, vomiting, diarrhea and colic. Buckthorn is sold as an herbal remedy; primarily for bowel disorders and you can buy buckthorn in capsule, liquid, tablet or tea form. As with all herbs however, you should talk to your healthcare practitioner before self-medicating with buckthorn.
Buckthorn contains an ingredient called anthraquinone that may have cancer fighting properties. Prostate.net website states that buckthorn is used orally in folk remedies to treat cancer however this use has not been substantiated by scientific evidence. Buckthorn is also used as a health tonic and was traditionally used as a "blood purifier" and diuretic.
Current Purported Uses
Today, Ageless.co.za website states that the herb is used in small amounts to help treat skin disorders, parasites and gallstones. Buckthorn is also used in combination with other herbs and marketed as a supplement for the promotion of prostate health, but similar to its use for cancer, the value of buckthorn as a prostate health tonic has not been scientifically verified.
Buckthorn contains 1,8-dihydroxy-anthracene derivatives, which are substances that have an effect on the nerves in the intestinal tract. As such, "Nursing Herbal Medicine Handbook," states that buckthorn is most often used as a laxative to relieve constipation and to ease evacuation of the bowels in individuals with hemorrhoids or anal fissures; or people who have had rectal-anal surgery. The herb cascara sagrada produces a similar laxative effect however and it is the more popular herbal laxative choice in North America.
Dosage and Precautions
In order to use buckthorn as a laxative or hemorrhoid treatment, take 15 to 30 drops of the liquid extract or 1 to 2 capsules before bed. Buckthorn may cause gastrointestinal cramping and dark yellow-red urine, and it may interact with certain herbs and medications. "Nursing Herbal Remedies Handbook" warns that pregnant women, breast-feeding women and children younger than 12 should not take buckthorn. Individuals with irritable bowel disorders such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease; electrolyte imbalances, intestinal obstruction or appendicitis should also avoid buckthorn. Finally, the herb should not be used for longer than seven days, or your bowels may become dependant on them for evacuation.