October 2015
The Herb Lady

Cascara Sagrada

Cascara sagrada is a small tree of the buckthorn family that grows in the northwestern part of the United States. It thrives in rich moist soil. This valuable herb is rarely, if ever, found in an ordinary herb garden.

When early Spanish explorers arrived in what in now northern California, they learned about cascara sagrada. Native Americans drank a tea made from its bark to treat constipation. Since constipation has always been a common, worldwide problem, the Spanish realized they had made a valuable discovery.

Cascara sagrada is Spanish for sacred bark. Sacred bark is certainly an apt name for this herb that has been an answer to many prayers.

According to my reference resources, cascara sagrada is not habit-forming. Its use increases secretion of digestive fluids and stimulates the peristaltic action of the colon. It is especially well-suited for the elderly. In some cases, it will restore tone to the relaxed bowel.

Cascara sagrada entered the U.S. Pharmacopoeia in 1890. As far as I know, it remains there to this day. This is just one of the many herbs that today’s mainstream medicine recognizes as a valid health-providing substance.

As a nurse, I administered cascara sagrada in the form of a nasty, thick, dark-brown substance. Most often it was mixed with Milk of Magnesia. As an herbalist, I’ve learned a much milder form of this herb can be taken in either tablets or capsules. Often it is found in a mixture of other herbs targeted toward the normal cleansing of the intestines.

This herb is also a tonic for the liver and gall bladder as well as the intestines. Of course, it is recommended we eat a high-fiber diet, drink plenty of liquids (especially water) and exercise more in an effort to eliminate a constant need for laxatives.

Growers peel the bark from the trunk and branches of the cascara sagrada trees. After this, the trees will die. However, if the tree is cut down leaving a bark-covered stump, a new tree will grow from the old roots. Cascara bark is then dried and stored to age for at least a year before use.

Pregnant women, nursing mothers, people with ulcers, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, hemorrhoids or others gastrointestinal problems should not take cascara sagrada without first consulting their physician.

(I always warn that you should consult your healthcare provider before taking any herbal products. This is especially true for pregnant and lactating women.)

Nadine Johnson can be reached at PO Box 7425, Spanish Fort, AL 36577, by calling 866-570-7302, or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..