Spring is here at last! Some of my bird friends have returned already such as turkey vulture and red-winged blackbird. The cacophony of birds is beginning – everyone is twitterpated – including me! I was out in one of the beautiful wild spaces of Ontario this past Monday watching Robin eating Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) berries.
Rhamnus has been much maligned in North America. It is a non-native shrub or small tree that was imported from Europe as an ornamental shrub and for fence rows but has gone feral and is now considered ‘an invasive.’ Common Buckthorn is also an alternate host for a fungus that causes oat crown rust. The policy of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs is to shoot on site and not ask any questions. It seems CB has caused endless grief to many. But Robin didn’t seem to be doing judgment and ate its berries with relish.
Rhamnus cathartica berries are a wonderful medicinal. I harvest the berries late in the fall after they have been subjected to frost, when their laxative properties are more gentled, and make them into a tincture. Its name R. cathartica is a give away for what it is best know for – constipation. Rhamnus berries are used as a stimulating laxative for chronic constipation. They are also excellent for liver and gallbladder congestion, poor appetite, difficulty with fat digestion, inflammation of the liver, chronic toxicity related conditions such as skin conditions (eczema, psoriasis, acne) and rheumatic conditions, and for inflammatory conditions of the urinary tract.
When using Rhamnus as a stimulating laxative always combine it with relaxing carminative herbs such as chamomile, mints, lemon balm, and lavender to gentle any potential griping and irritation. The griping though is minimalized when you harvest the berries after frost. Keep in mind that, in general, stimulating laxatives are a last resort with chronic constipation.