Cascara Sagrada

Botanical name(s):

Rhamnus purshiana. Family: Rhamnaceae

Other name(s):

bitter bark, sacred bark

General description

Cascara sagrada, which means "sacred bark," was first used by Native Americans. It is made from the bark of a tree found in the northwestern United States. The bark contains anthraquinone glycosides, which act as a cathartic or laxative, depending on the dosage. Cascara has laxative effects and may help relieve constipation. However, in 2002, the FDA reclassified laxatives containing cascara sagrada as category II agents (not generally recognized as safe and effective for over-the-counter use). This was done because manufacturers had not done the necessary studies to prove the safety of cascara sagrada. 

Medically valid uses

Cascara is used to treat constipation, particularly chronic constipation. It may be used for other colon disorders associated with constipation.

Taken internally, cascara sagrada:

  • Acts as a laxative or purgative and stimulates bowel movements

  • Empties the colon

Unsubstantiated claims

Please note that this section reports on claims that have NOT yet been substantiated through scientific studies.

Cascara may be useful in treating parasitic infestation.

Dosing format

Cascara sagrada is found as tablets, capsules, and syrup. Follow packaging instructions for correct dose. Cascara is also prepared as a tea or aromatic fluid extract. The aromatic fluid extract dosage is 1 ml.

Side effects, toxicity, and interactions

Side effects consist of extensions of cascara sagrada's normal function and include cramping and diarrhea.

As with any laxative, do not use when abdominal pain, nausea, or vomiting are present. Do not use in the presence of chronic intestinal disorders such as Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, sprue, or irritable bowel syndrome.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use cascara sagrada.

The bark is considered safe only after aging for at least one year.

Additional information

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