Buckthorn Bark and Constipation: How it Works

buckthorn bark

Buckthorn Bark comes from the stem and branches of rhamnus frangula trees and is effective as an herbal remedy for treating bowel disorders. The tree is native to Europe and western parts of Asia. The bark of the trunks and branches is usually dried and seasoned. The bark is available as an alternative health supplement and comes in the form of dried extract powder tea, tablet, or capsule.

Buckthorn trees are commonly found in the forests of northern America in areas like Canada, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, and New York in the US. Buckthorn barks are often grown for up to one year before they are suitable for consumption. If consumed earlier than a year, untreated buckthorn could cause irritation to the protective mucosa lining in the stomach and result in serious gastrointestinal issues, vomiting, diarrhea, spasms, and colic.



It is important to note that as a herbal remedy, buckthorn bark has a sweet and mildly bitter taste. In addition, the berries on the tree should never be consumed as they can lead to severe diarrhea. In fact, many of the birds and animals that consume the berries tend to die from dehydration. The berries of buckthorn are usually dark blue in color. The berries are also used in the production of bright yellow-red dye that has been used for so many years to color textiles. These berries, when picked unripe and dried, are known as Sappo berries. Interestingly, the various stages of ripeness can give different colors such as purple, black, and yellow.

The alternative names for buckthorn bark include Alder Dogwood, Arrow Wood, Dogwood, Bois Noir, Bourdaine, Coudrier Noir, Frangula Bark, Frangula Alnus, Rhamnus Frangula, Glossy Buckthorn, Nerprun Bourdaine, and Nerprun Noir.

Most of the medicinal preparations of buckthorn bark are derived from the European buckthorn shrub, also called black dogwood (Rhamnus frangula). There is also a species of buckthorn grown across northern California and British Columbia–California Buckthorn ( Rhamnus pursiana ), also known as cascara sagrada. This species contains medicinal properties that are similar to the European buckthorn and is effective for healing as well.



Since around the 1600s, buckthorn bark has been used in traditional medicine. While it is common that most herbs contain a wide variety of traditional benefits, buckthorn bark is historically known to help relieve one health issue: constipation and its related issues (hemorrhoids and irritation of the anus). Buckthorn, popularly known as purging buckthorn, comes from the Rhamnaceae family of plants and is commonly grouped as a deciduous tree which consists of not less than 100 varieties of shrubs and trees.

Buckthorn bark has anthraquinone glycosides, acids such as anthocyanins, tannins, ascorbic acid, pectins, and flavonoids. The seeds have Glucofrangulin and frangulin, Emodin and emodinanthrone.


The Health Benefits of Buckthorn Bark

Buckthorn bark is made of compounds known as anthraquinones, which have a potent purgative, laxative effect on the body. In fact, these compounds are very effective that before they are processed into laxative products, the bark is allowed to grow up to a year, or heated and dried.

As a matter of fact, buckthorn bark has the ability to:


Relieve Constipation

The compounds present in buckthorn bark help to increase the ability of the colon to contract spontaneously. These compounds also lower the rate of water absorption by the intestines—this means more fluid is left in the colon. This alone produces increased volume and softer stools, which in turn relieves constipation.



Treat Hemorrhoids and Anal Irritation

We already that buckthorn bark is powerful regarding softening stools, but it can also make bowel movements much easier for people who suffer from hemorrhoids or anal irritation, or those recovering from recto-anal surgery. In some cases, buckthorn bark is also effective for cleansing the colon in readiness for gastrointestinal diagnostic procedures.



  • If consumed for a protracted period of time, similar to other laxatives, buckthorn bark can lower the body’s rate of absorption of other medications.
  • When overused, the consumption of buckthorn can lead to a deficiency in potassium that can affect drugs used for regulating the heart, especially for people also ingesting diuretics or Corticosteroids.
  • Remember not to consume fresh buckthorn bark, as it is way too powerful. Only the dried and aged preparations are recommended for consumption. Typically, they are made into a fluid extract.
  • Only a small dose is needed to generate a softer stool.


Side Effects and Precautions

Buckthorn bark can lead to intestinal cramping, especially if a large dose is used.

  • This bark is often recommended in small doses.
  • This herb is not recommended for pregnant women or breastfeeding mothers.
  • This herb is also not recommended for children.
  • For people with serious forms of intestinal diseases like colitis, appendicitis, or Crohn’s disease, this herb should be avoided.
  • The fresh bark and fresh berries are known to result in poisoning. The most suitable bark is the one that is about 3 to 4 years old. It is vital to allow the bark age for about a year. Once you get the bark, store it for a year.
  • It is advisable not to use buckthorn bark for too long (1 to 2 weeks) without consulting your doctor.
  • An abuse of stimulating laxatives can lead to intestinal issues and worsen the condition.

For people with issues with proper stool elimination or weight gain, they can consider using buckthorn bark supplements.


The Bottom Line

In summary, buckthorn bark contains compounds known as anthraquinones, which have a purgative and  laxative effect on the body. And since these compounds are very strong, the bark is usually aged for a year or heated and dried.

The herb is effective for alleviating constipation and easing contraction in the colon. Buckthorn bark also reduces the absorption of water by the intestines, leaving more liquid in the colon, which then eases bowel movement. It also has the ability to treat hemorrhoids and make stool softener.

However, it is advisable not to use buckthorn bark over an extended period without checking with a doctor first. This is because an abuse of stimulating laxatives may result in intestinal sluggishness.