Cascara sagrada is the dried, aged bark of a small tree in the buckthorn family native to the Pacific Northwest. The bark is harvested mostly from wild trees in Oregon, Washington, and southern British Columbia. The bark is aged for a year so that the active principles become milder, as freshly dried bark produces too strong a laxative for safe use; it also contains a compound that induces vomiting.
Cascara Sagrada is a medicinal plant whose bark is used primarily for relief from constipation. Traditionally it has been used as a folk remedy for chronic constipation, dyspepsia, as a tonic for the bowels, and a treatment for liver and gallbladder problems. It should be noted that except in usage for constipation, none of these traditional applications have been clinically validated. Cascara sagrada acts by irritating the intestines to produce wavelike contractions of the muscles of the intestinal wall. Properly diluted, cascara sagrada is especially useful as a mild laxative for elderly people or those in delicate health. Honey produced from cascara flowers also has a slight laxative effect. Two related European species, R. frangula (alder buckthorn) and R. cathartica (buckthorn), have similar laxative effects, but cascara sagrada is milder and also safer to use.
Cascara Sagrada is perhaps the safest and most certain laxative available and can be used to restore tone to the colon and thereby overcome laxative dependence in the elderly. The herb is safe and effective for detoxifying and cleansing programs, as opposed to the harsher laxatives, such as senna. Cascara Sagrada is also an effective liver tonic in small doses: hepatitis, gall stones, etc.. Cascara Sagrada can be used as an effective chelating agent to prevent the occurrence of calcium-based urinary stones. Cascara sagrada may be used in chronic constipation as it encourages peristalsis and tones relaxed muscles of the digestive system. Cascara sagrada is a key ingredient of many commercial laxatives. Cascara sagrada can also be used in small doses as a tonic to promote digestion.