Herb: Common Buckthorn

Latin name: Rhamnus cathartica

Family: Rhamnaceae (Buckthorn Family)

Medicinal use of Common Buckthorn:

Both the bark and the fruit of common buckthorn have been used for their purgative effect upon the body, however they can be rather violent in their action and so are rarely used in human medicines. The berries, harvested when fully ripe, are cathartic, depurative, diuretic, laxative and violently purgative. About 8 - 15 of the mature fruits, chewed before breakfast, are a strong and effective laxative for adults, they should not be used by children. An infusion of the not quite mature fruits is gentler in its action. Use with caution, in large doses the fruit can cause vomiting and violent diarrhoea.

Description of the plant:


6 m
(20 feet)

May to

Habitat of the herb:

Fen peat, scrub, hedges, ash and oak woods, on calcareous often dry soils.

Other uses of Common Buckthorn:

A green dye is obtained from the immature fruit. Mixed with gum arabic and limewater, it makes a green pigment used in watercolour painting. Yellow, orange and brownish dyes can also be obtained. The colours are rich but fugitive. A yellow dye is obtained from the bark. It has been used to colour paper and maps. Often grown as an informal hedge, it is also amenable to trimming. Wood - hard, handsome with a marble-like grain. Used for small turnery.

Propagation of the herb:

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in the autumn in a cold frame. Stored seed will require 1 - 2 months stratification at 5C and should be sown as early in the year as possible in a cold frame. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle, and grow them on in the greenhouse or cold frame for their first winter. Plant them out in late spring or early summer of the following year. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, July/August in a frame. Cuttings of mature wood of the current year's growth, autumn in a frame. Layering in early spring.

Cultivation of Common Buckthorn:

Fen peat, scrub, hedges, ash and oak woods, on calcareous often dry soils.

Known hazards of Rhamnus cathartica:

The fruit is purgative but not seriously poisonous. Other parts of the plant may also be poisonous.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.