The herbal tree called the cascara sagrada is a large deciduous tree, which can reach a height of twenty to thirty feet when fully mature. The circumference of average cascara sagrada trunks is one and a half feet in diameter. The tree bears a reddish brown colored bark and possesses slender branches with many leaves. The leaves of the cascara sagrada tree are elliptical in shape and are often green or yellow green in coloration, they tend to have a finely toothed edge, and are rounded at the base, and each individual leave may have either blunt or sharp ends at the tips. The foliage tends to be characterized by a crowding of the leaves at the tips of branchlets along the slender branches. The cascara sagrada also bears greenish white colored flowers; these are borne in large clusters along the axils of the leaves during the months of May through June. By September, these flowers will give rise to rounded black fruits; each individual fruiting body has two or three smooth seeds inside.
By observing the way Native Americans used parts of this tree in their traditional folk medicine, the early Spanish priests in what is now California, came up with the Spanish name for the tree, cascara sagrada - or the "sacred bark." Cascara sagrada was prepared into various herbal medicines by the native Indians - during the early spring or in the Autumn season, the native peoples would stripped off the bark, the stripped off bark would then be dried, and subjected to a slow aging process which lasted a whole year at a minimum - this prepared bark would then be stored for late use in the various herbal medications of the native Americans. The herbal remedy was prepared from aged bark, by using boiling water to steep or boil the bark; this boiled water was then cooled and drunk to help alleviate the physical symptoms of constipation in affected patients. The medical uses for the cascara sagrada was eventually accepted by American physicians only in the 1877, which is a century from the time that the early Spaniards first recognized the plant's medicinal properties from the natives of California. The U.S. Pharmacopeia has listed the cascara sagrada in its books since the year 1894, recognizing its many medicinal uses. The bark of the cascara bark is a natural laxative and it is believed to be one of the world's most common natural laxatives. The cascara sagrada is still marketed as a natural plant based laxative remedy.
The medicinal ability of the cascara sagrada lies mainly in its property of actively inducing wavelike contractions along the musculature in the walls of the intestines; it induces this action by irritating the intestinal tissues. The laxative action of the cascara sagrada remedy is particularly of great benefit for those with weakened health and those who are old, especially when it has been properly diluted. A mild laxative action is also induced by the honey made from the flowers of the cascara plant. A similar laxative action is also displayed by two related European species of the Cascara, the R. frangula species - the alder buckthorn plant and the R.cathartica species - or the buckthorn, the cascara sagrada is generally preferred to these two plants as it possesses a milder laxative action and is believed to be much safer to use with patients.
Patients affected by problems such as chronic constipation can be given the herbal cascara sagrada remedy as the plant induces peristalsis in the intestinal muscles and it is also known to tone the relaxed intestinal muscles in the digestive system of the affected patient. For this reason, many commercial laxatives contain the cascara sagrada as one of the key ingredients in the product. Small doses of the cascara sagrada can also be given as a tonic to the patients as the plant often helps promote the digestive process in patients affected by disorders in the digestion.
Habitat and cultivation
The cascara sagrada is a plant native to specific areas of the North American continent - mainly the western coastal regions. The plant is found growing all along the Pacific Northwest from the Canadian province of British Columbia down to the northern parts of the California state. The cascara sagrada is mainly found in specific areas such as along bottomlands in valleys, along canyons and on forested mountain slopes.
In all herbal remedies made from cascara sagrada, the only form of the plant permissible for use during the preparation process is the dried form of the cascara sagrada. Dosage for patients can be two capsules of the dried form of cascara sagrada, which can be taken a maximum of two times every day during the treatment process. The dosage regimen for the cascara sagrada in tincture form is usually 1 to 5 ml every day during the treatment period. Whenever, patients use the cascara sagrada remedy, they must also drink at least eight 6 ounce glasses of water during the day to prevent dehydration as well as to aid the remedy. During any treatment regimen using the cascara sagrada, eight to ten days must be kept as the limit for continuous use - this time period must always be broken by an interval of rest to ensure optimal treatment.
Side effects and cautions
A physician must always be present to supervise the use of cascara sagrada by women who are in a term of pregnancy and those who are lactating - such patients must not use the remedy unless a doctor is supervising the dosages. The cascara sagrada must also be avoided by all patients affected by an intestinal obstruction. The colon can be drastically weakened in its functioning due to abuse of cascara sagrada, using the herb for very long periods or abusing the doses of the herb can also lead to the drastic loss of electrolytes from the body - this is particularly evident in the depletion of the essential mineral potassium. The drastic loss of an essential mineral like potassium can often resemble the effects of the digitalis like medications; such a situation can lead to severe health complications and even death.
Collection and harvesting
The preparation and processing techniques of this remedy in the present day, differ little from the traditional methods of the Native Americans; during the spring or summer, the bark is stripped from the trunk of the cascara sagrada and the collected bark are left to undergo a slow aging process for a few years before they are used as herbal medicine. The population of cascara sagrada trees in the wild has drastically come down; this situation is mainly due to the large scale and indiscriminate cutting of the trees by white settlers in the last century.
To make it more effective as an herbal remedy, the cascara sagrada remedy should be mixed with different aromatics and carminative substances - such as the licorice, this makes the remedy more potent.