Buckthorn (Sha Ji Pi)
Botanical Name: Western – Rhamnus frangula, R. purshiana, R. cathartica, R. californica. Eastern – R. heterophylla, R. globosus, R. leptophylla, R. utilis.
Do not confuse buckthorn (aka alder buckthorn / Rhamnus frangula) with European buckthorn (aka common or alderleaf buckthorn / Rhamnus cathartica), or Cascara sagrada (R. purshiana), or with sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides). They are different species and sea buckthorn (Hippophaes rhamnoides) is a different plant. Buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula) bark is aged or heated to make medicine. It is used as a laxative, tonic, and has anticancer properties. In Traditional Chinese Medicine buckthorn bark is recognized for its ability to Remove Stagnation and Relieve the Bowels. It is used to treat cancer and help support healthy liver function.
Watch a short video, from Ann Christensen, Founder and Creator of White Rabbit Institute of Healing™ – About the many species of buckthorn.
Remember to check with your doctor before trying new medicines or herbal remedies, especially if you are taking other medication where drug interactions are possible.
Below is an overview of buckthorn, combining the best of Western Science, Oriental Medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Shamanism, Folklore, and a wide range of healing modalities. Gain a balanced and thorough understanding of the healing properties of buckthorn.
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Also Known As: Buckthorn Bark, Alder Buckthorn, Alder Dogwood, Arrow Wood, Black Dogwood
Organs/Systems: Intestines, Digestive, Liver
Key Actions: Laxative, Anticancer, Antifungal, Antibacterial, Detoxifying, Astringent, Hepatic
Medicinal Uses: Constipation (especially with cramping, bloating, headaches, appetite loss, or vomiting), hemorrhoids, cirrhosis, jaundice, hepatitis, gallstones, liver tonic, cancer, diabetes, rheumatism, allergies, reduces cholesterol, fresh buckthorn is toxic and causes vomiting.
Pin Yin: Sha Ji Pi
Also Known As: Nu Er Cha / R. heterophylla, Dong Lu Ci / R. globosus, Lu Ti Gen / R. utilis, Jiang Li Mu / R. leptophylla
Meridians: Liver, Gallbladder, Stomach, Small Intestine
Key Actions: Removes Stagnation, Clears Heat, Promotes Bowel Movement, Tonifies the Liver, Clears Toxins
Medicinal Uses: Constipation, hemorrhoids, headaches, rashes due to constipation, cancer, blood and liver purifying, gallstones, cirrhosis, jaundice, mid-back pain, hard swollen abdomen, flatulence, foul breath, poor appetite, painful slow digestion, gout, joint pain due to constipation, gum disease.
Basic Habitat / Botany:
There are about 100 species of buckthorn shrubs or small trees in the genus Rhamnus, family Rhamnaceae. It has smooth, dark green, glossy, oval leaves that grow in opposing pairs along the stem. The bark is gray to brown, with small whitish lenticels (opennings). The twigs and stems do not have any thorns. Its flowers are white with five petals and grow in small clusters. The fruit (drupes) are light green and ripen to red then black in the late summer.
Buckthorn is native to Europe, Western Asia, and the Middle East. It likes open woods, hedgerows, and bogs in the temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere.
Parts Most Frequently Used: Bark, Berry
Flavors/Temps: Bitter, Astringent, Cool to Cold
Caution: Considered safe if aged and dried for 1 to 3 years or heated and used in proper doses. Some people experience cramping or diarrhea. Fresh bark can cause severe vomiting. Buckthorn berries, bark, and roots are toxic. It is not recommended for children under 12 years of age or for pregnant women. Because it is a strong laxative, it is also not recommended for those who have colitis or ulcers.
Key Constituents: Anthraquinone (including: Emodin, Chrysophanic acid), Tannins, Glycosides, Lipids
History/Folklore: In Ancient Greece the bark was used as a protection and remedy for poisons, headaches, witchcraft, and demons. By the mid-1600’s it was identified as a treatment for constipation, and in the early 1800’s it was officially recognized in the U.S. as a drug for constipation and bowel disorders.
Buckthorn bark must be mature before consuming, at least one to three years old. Fresh buckthorn can make you vomit. The bark is safe if it is aged, dried, or heated. The berries and roots are also toxic and are not recommended for eating as they are highly purgative.
Buckthorn aids the body’s natural detoxification process. The plant contains anthraquinone, a compound found in other common cleansing and digestive supporting plants such as rhubarb. This compound helps to form stools into larger and softer volumes helping to ease bowel movements. They also help increase colon motility by stimulating the intestines by reducing water consumption in the intestines. The compound also has antibacterial properties that help cleanse and protect the intestines. Buckthorn is a powerful laxative, a little goes a long way, too much could cause diarrhea.
Buckthorn helps to stimulate bile production and promote healthy gallbladder function. It is therefore used to treat cirrhosis, jaundice, hepatitis, and gallstones. It is often combined with dandelion and other liver cleansing and supporting herbs.
Because it can loosen the bowels, reduce bloating, and help to cleanse the system, it is sometimes marketed as a weight-loss supplement, though it is not recommended by trained herbalists for this purpose as it so powerfully impacts the bowels and can have unwanted side effects if used in improper doses or for too long a period of time. It is a downward moving herb meant to cleanse the liver and bowels. It can also help to stimulate menses.
The European species (R. cathartica) typically makes use of the berries. Its variety is native to North Africa and is generally found in coastal sandy areas. The berries will be freshly gathered in the autumn to make syrups and juice that are diluted to counter their bitter and acrid qualities. Unripe berries are used to make a yellow-green dye. Like other buckthorn plants it is a well-known laxative and before the 19th century it was blended with ginger and sugar as a purgative for children. Due to toxicity this is no longer recommended as a remedy.
The compound anthraquinone has cancer fighting properties and has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to successfully treat some forms and stages of cancer. R. frangula extract has been found to promote cell cancer death, especially in breast cancer. Buckthorn is considered in TCM to be effective for treating excess Internal Heat conditions while simultaneously helping to eliminate Toxins
In addition to the species Rhamnus frangula, Traditional Chinese Medicine makes use of several other species of Rhamnus, all of which have similar, yet particularly noteworthy functions. R. heterophylla (Nu Er Cha) is acrid, bitter, and cool. It is used to Clear Heat, Cool Blood, and Stop Bleeding. R. globosus (Dong Lu Ci) is bitter, astringent, and cold. It is used to Expel Phlegm, Disperse Food, and kill parasites. R. utilis (Lu Ti Gen) is bitter and cold and is used to Cool Blood, Clear Heat, and Expel Toxins. And R. leptophylla (Jiang Li Mu) which is bitter, cold, and is slightly toxic. It Disperses Food and Clears the Bowels. Similar to burdock root (R. Frangula) each of these are used for treating bloating and constipation. The leaves and roots of R. leptophylla (Jiang Li Mu) are also sometimes used.
Buckthorn bark is also used as a tonic or “blood purifier” and diuretic.
Frequent constipation can cause hemorrhoids. Hard, impacted stools can cause swollen, painful veins around the rectum. Because buckthorn bark helps stimulate the bowels, it can also help relieve hemorrhoids associated with constipation.
Buckthorn (R. frangula) is sometimes conflated with Cascara sagrada (R. purshiana) though it is a different species. It is sometimes called cascara buckthorn or bitter bark. While having virtually identical constituents, qualities, and functions, these are different plants, with Cascara having more general medicinal applications and buckthorn being more focused on constipation. Some feel it is less strong and reliable for treating constipation than buckthorn is, others disagree. Both herbs restore the liver, promote digestion, have powerful downward moving energies, and promote cleansing. R. californica can also be similarly used to treat constipation and promote cleansing. It appears to tone mucous membranes and the reproductive organs and have a milder laxative action than these other species of Rhamnus.
Buckthorn bark is also used externally as a compress for treating skin conditions when they are associated with constipation such as allergic eczema, psoriasis, acne, or other skin infections.
Historically it was used to dye textiles yellow. The bark creates a yellow dye and the unripe berries a greenish-yellow dye.
The genus name Frangula, comes from the Latin frango meaning “to break”, referring to the brittleness of the wood. While sometimes commonly called alder buckthorn, it is not in the Alder family and does not carry any thorns.
Buckthorn bark has a bitter earthy flavor.
The plant attracts butterflies and bees and the berries are eaten by fruit-eating animals, though deer do not like the plant. R. frangula and R. cathartica are one of just two food sources for the brimstone butterfly. Thrushes particularly like buckthorn berries.
Charcoal made from buckthorn bark is prized in the manufacture of gunpowder, the same way as charcoal from alder trees is. It is considered best for use in time fuses due to its very even burn rate.
How to use Buckthorn (Sha Ji Pi) and take FULL advantage of it's healing powers!
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