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Cascara Sagrada

Botanical name(s):

Rhamnus purshiana. Family: Rhamnaceae

Other name(s):

bitter bark, sacred bark

General description

Cascara sagrada was first used by Native Americans. It means “sacred bark”. It’s made from the bark of a tree found in the northwestern U.S.

The bark contains anthraquinone glycosides. This acts as a cathartic or laxative. Cascara has laxative effects and may help relieve constipation. However, in 2002, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classified laxatives that contain cascara sagrada as category II agents. This means they are not generally recognized as safe and effective for over-the-counter use. Manufacturers had not done the needed studies to show the safety of cascara sagrada. 

Medically valid uses

Cascara is used to treat constipation. It’s mostly helpful in chronic constipation. It may be used for other colon problems linked with constipation.

When taken by mouth, it does the following:

  • Acts as a laxative or purgative. This 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 help treat parasitic infestations.

Dosing format

Cascara sagrada comes as oral tablets, capsules, and syrup. Follow the instructions on the package for the 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 include stomach cramping and diarrhea.

As with any laxative, you should not it use when you have stomach pain, nausea, or vomiting. Do not use cascara if you have chronic intestinal problems. These include 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 it’s been aged for one year.

Online Medical Reviewer: Poulson, Brittany, RD
Online Medical Reviewer: Wilkins, Joanna, R.D., C.D.
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2016
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