Herb: Alder Buckthorn

Latin name: Rhamnus frangula

Synonyms: Frangula alnus

Family: Rhamnaceae (Buckthorn Family)

Medicinal use of Alder Buckthorn:

Alder buckthorn has been used medicinally as a gentle laxative since at least the Middle Ages. The bark contains 3 - 7% anthraquinones, these act on the wall of the colon stimulating a bowel movement approximately 8 - 12 hours after ingestion. It is so gentle and effective a treatment when prescribed in the correct dosages that it is completely safe to use for children and pregnant women. The bark also contains anthrones and anthranols, these induce vomiting but the severity of their effect is greatly reduced after the bark has been dried and stored for a long time. The bark is harvested in early summer from the young trunk and moderately sized branches, it must then be dried and stored for at least 12 months before being used The inner bark is cathartic, cholagogue, laxative (the fresh bark is violently purgative), tonic, vermifuge. It is taken internally as a laxative for chronic atonic constipation and is also used to treat abdominal bloating, hepatitis, cirrhosis, jaundice, and liver and gall bladder complaints. It should be used with caution since excess doses or using the bark before it is cured can cause violent purging. Externally, the bark is used to treat gum diseases and scalp infestations, or as a lotion for minor skin irritations. The fruit is occasionally used, it is aperient without being irritating.

Description of the plant:


5 m
(16 feet)

May to

Habitat of the herb:

Swamps and damp places, usually on moist heaths and damp open woods, preferring a peaty soil.

Other uses of Alder Buckthorn:

A yellow dye is obtained from the leaves and bark. It is much used in Russia and turns black when mixed with salts of iron. A green dye is obtained from the unripe fruit. A blue or grey dye is obtained from the ripe berries. Plants can be grown as an informal (untrimmed) hedge, though they are also amenable to trimming. The cultivar "Tallhedge (syn "Columnaris") is very suitable for this purpose. The wood is used to make wooden nails, shoe lasts, veneer etc. It is the source of a high quality charcoal that is used by artists.

Propagation of the herb:

Seed - best sown in the autumn in a cold frame. Stored seed will require 1 - 2 months cold stratification at about 5C and should be sown as early in the year as possible in a cold frame or outdoor seedbed. Germination is usually good, at least 80% by late spring. 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 Alder Buckthorn:

Swamps and damp places, usually on moist heaths and damp open woods, preferring a peaty soil.

Known hazards of Rhamnus frangula:

The plant is poisonous unless stored for 12 months before use. This report is probably referring to the bark.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.