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What is Rhamnus Frangula?

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  • Written By: J.M. Willhite
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 31 October 2016
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Rhamnus frangula, commonly known as alder buckthorn, is a plant traditionally used as an herbal supplement to relieve constipation. Known for its cathartic effects, rhamnus frangula can be used in combination with additional herbs for treating fecal incontinence, or diarrhea. Individuals with certain conditions should not take alder buckthorn. As with any herbal supplement, there is the potential for interaction with prescription medications, so individuals should consult with a qualified health care provider prior to starting an herbal regimen.

The rhamnus frangula is an invasive, deciduous shrub that grows to the size of a small tree. Indigenous to Europe, the shrub grows to nearly 20 feet (6.4 m) in height and is recognizable by its shiny, oval leaves. The bark of a young shrub is green in color but becomes grayish-white as it matures. The greenish-white flowers of the rhamnus frangula bloom in the spring and summer. The green berries turn red to black as they mature into the fall months when they are picked for herbal use.

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Historically, alder buckthorn was included among a classification of herbs and plants which were suggested to possess supernatural powers. Individuals who subscribed to the plant's power would utilize it for situations such as protecting against witchcraft, purging the body of poisons, and warding off demons. During the 1300s, the cathartic effects of alder buckthorn were discovered. Other species of buckthorn had been used for centuries as a laxative; however, their effects were quite abrupt and severe. Compared to these species of buckthorn, individuals found the effects of rhamnus frangula to be much more tolerable.

Introduced to North America more than 200 years ago, the bark is the most frequently used part of the alder buckthorn. Removed bark is cut into small pieces, dried, and stored for one year before it is used medicinally. The use of fresh bark can cause severe physical effects and its use is discouraged due to its emetic properties, which induce vomiting.

The cathartic effectiveness of alder buckthorn’s bark is attributed to its chemical composition, which includes anthraquinones, alkaloids, tannins, and flavonoids. The presence of anthraquinones act on the muscles within the colon, aiding with bowel stimulation. Alkaloids, tannins, and flavonoids are naturally occurring compounds found in vegetables and fruits, and possess tremendous therapeutic value.

When taken in capsule form, the suggested dose of alder buckthorn is generally 20 to 30 grams (.7 to 1 ounce) per day. The smallest amount of alder buckthorn should be taken to regulate bowel movements and prevent dependence. When prepared as a tincture, the herb should be taken at bedtime to induce a bowel movement by the morning upon waking. Used in combination with chamomile and psyllium, alder buckthorn can be an effective treatment for fecal incontinence, or diarrhea.

Individuals who take alder buckthorn should consume a diet comprised of fresh vegetables and fruits and drink at least eight glasses of water per day. In some cases, the herb can give an individual’s urine a harmless red or dark yellow tinge. Women who are pregnant or nursing should not take alder buckthorn. Individuals with certain conditions, including appendicitis, Crohn’s disease, and inflammation of the digestive system, should avoid using the herb.

Due to the risk of dependence, alder buckthorn should not be taken for more than ten consecutive days. Excessive use can also lead to a loss of potassium and other essential electrolytes. Long-term use can also result in damage to the kidneys and colon.

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