Buckthorn: A Bit of Botany
a little botanical information about buckthorn

Buckthorn is a deciduous shrub in the family Rhamnaceae that grows up to 20 feet tall. Buckthorn is usually multi-stemmed, but rarely forms a small tree with a trunk diameter of up to 20 cm. The bark is dark blackish-brown, with bright lemon-yellow inner bark exposed if cut, bark turns gray as it ages.

The shoots are dark brown, the winter buds without bud scales, protected only by the densely hairy outer leaves The leaves are ovate, 3–7 (–11) cm long by 2.5–4 (–6) cm wide, slightly downy on the veins, with an entire margin, 6–10 pairs of prominently grooved veins, and an 8–15 mm petiole; they are arranged alternately on the stems.

The flowers are small, 3–5 mm diameter, star-shaped with five greenish-white acute triangular petals, hermaphroditic, and insect pollinated, flowering in May to June in clusters of two to ten in the leaf axils. The fruit is a small black berry 6–10 mm diameter, ripening from green through red in late summer to dark purple or black in early autumn, containing two or three pale brown 5 mm seeds. The seeds are primarily dispersed by fruit-eating birds.

common names & nomenclature
The genus name Frangula refers to the brittle wood. The common name refers to its often growing together with alders on damp sites.

Also known as:
european buckthorn, arrowwood, black alder tree, persian berries, alder buckthorn, black dogwood, black alder dogwood, european black alder, glossy buckthorn

Buckthorn, the shrub that improves with age
Buckthorn: Where in the World
habitat and range for buckthorn

Buckthorn is native to Europe, northernmost Africa, and western Asia, from Ireland and Great Britain north to Scandinavia, east to central Siberia and Xinjiang in western China, and south to northern Morocco, Turkey, and the Alborz and Caucasus Mountains; in the northwest of its range (Ireland, Scotland), it is rare and scattered. It is also introduced and naturalized in eastern North America.

Buckthorn: Cultivation & Harvesting
considerations for growing and harvesting buckthorn

Buckthorn grows in open woods, scrub, hedgerows and bogs, thriving well in sunlight and moderate shade, but less vigorously in dense shade.

Buckthorn grows in wet soils and it prefers acidic soils though will also grow on neutral soils.

Plants will self-seed, but new seedlings are not always true. Self-seeding can occur in optimum conditions (best propagated from cuttings).

Sow seeds in the autumn in a cold frame. Stored seed will require 1 - 2 months cold stratification at about 5° and should be sown as early in the year as possible in a cold frame. Germination is usually good, at least 80% by late spring. Transplant the seedlings into 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.

Take cuttings of half-ripe wood in July/August, or cuttings of mature wood of the current year's growth in Autumn, plant cuttings in a cold frame. Can propagate by layering in early spring.

The bark is collected in the spring or early summer, when it easily peels from the tree.

Buckthorn bark should be dried from 1 to 2 years before use.

Buckthorn: The Rest of the Story
buckthorn history, folklore, literature & more

Because of buckthorn's powerful laxative action, it should not be used by people with chronic gastrointestinal problems, such as ulcers, colitis, or hemorrhoids. Pregnant women should not take buckthorn.

Don't use buckthorn for more than two weeks at a time. If you use it too long, it causes lazy bowel syndrome — an inability to produce stool without chemical stimulation.

If you use buckthorn, make sure it has been dried thoroughly. Otherwise, it causes vomiting, severe abdominal pain, and violent diarrhea. Most herbalists recommend drying the berries of bark for at least a year (some say two) before using them. Fresh buckthorn may be artificially dried by baking it at 250 deg. F for several hours.

Buckthorn is a shrub or a small tree which reaches about 20 feet. It has shiny, dark green leaves, and produces black pea-size berries. It is not a garden herb.