Alder Buckthorn Identification: The bark is grey-black, quite smooth with very characteristic vertical white dots and stripes. These white dots and stripes are known as lenticels and are breathing pores. When the bark is scraped, it shows a crimson layer above the yellow- brown bark. The youn branches and twigs are greenish at first, then turning grey brown and are red-brown to dark violet at the tips. The older bark turns into a dark brownish roughened bark and has an orange inner surface.
The leaves have stalks and appear alternately left and right on the branches. They are 3-7 cm long, oval shaped with a pointed end. The leaves are feather veined with 6-10 pairs of side-veins, which curve upwards and inwards to form an arched loop with the vein above near the edge. These pairs of side-veins are alternate, rather than opposite, but the space between a pair of veins is markedly smaller than the space between the different pairs. The leaves do not have teeth and have a shiny green surface above. They can be brownish and velvety underneath when still young. In the autumn they turn a warm yellow with shades of red.
The alder buckthorn tree blooms in May and has green-white bisexual flowers. These flowers are very small and appear in small clusters, pairs or solitary at the tips of the branches. They are bell-shaped with a five petalled star-like opening. The calyx is also 5 lobed and there are 5 stamens. The flowers give way to round fleshy fruits, the size of a pea, which turn from green to cherry-red to a black-brown-purple-bluish color in September/October. The flesh is just a thin layer and inside there are 2 or 3 seeds.
Habitat: Alder buckthorn grows mostly on damp and peaty soil, near bogs, in marshes, damp moorland and open woodland. Widely distributed over Europe and northern Asia, and found in woods and thickets throughout England, though rare in Scotland.
Family: Rhamnaceae (Buckthorn family)
Other Names: Alder buckthorn, alder dogwood, arrowwood, black alder dogwood, black alder tree, black dogwood, European black alder, European buckthorn, Persian berries.
Parts Used: Bark. The dried bark collected from the young trunk and moderately-sized branches in early summer and kept at least one year before being used. It is stripped from the branches and dried either on sunny days, out of doors, in halfshade, or by artificial heat, on shelves or trays, in a warm, well-ventilated room.
Constituents: Antraquinone glycosides, comprising frangulin ‘a’ and ‘b’ (produced during drying and storage), frangula emodin, glucograngulin ‘a’ and ‘b’, chrysophanic acid, and iso-emodin. All these substances play a role in the purgative action of the bark.
Also: Flavonoids, bitter principles, tannins, volatile oil, resins, mucilage.
Properties: Tonic, laxative, cathartic.
Main Uses: A gentle to medium purgative action, which occurs about 6-12 hours after taking the remedy. It works by stimulating the peristaltic movements of the large intestine.
Cholagogue, which means it increases the amount of bile secreted by the liver. This helps to cleanse the liver, and aids digestive processes, particularly of fats. Bile is also a natural laxative and therefore cleansing to the whole of the digestive system.
Tonic. The above properties enhanced by the bitter components (which stimulate digestive secretions and tone the gastro-intestinal tract) give the bark a toning, cleansing action which can help to rejuvenate and enliven the whole system.
Anti-parasitic. Externally used for lice infestations. Also used as a rinse to kill germs in a sore throat or elsewhere in the mouth.
Preparation & Dosages:
Decoction: Use 1 teaspoon bark with 1/2 cup cold water. Bring to a boil. Drink before going to bed. Use no more than 1/2 oz. of bark per day.
Cold Extract: Use 1 tsp. bark with 1/2 cup cold water. Let stand for 12 hours. Drink in the evening.
Tincture: A dose is from 5 to 20 drops.
Alder buckthorn may turn the urine dark yellow or red, but this is harmless. Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding and children
under the age of 12 should not use alder buckthorn without the advice of a physician. Those with an intestinal obstruction, Crohn’s disease or any other acute inflammatory problem in the intestines, diarrhea, appendicitis, or abdominal pain should not use this herb. Use or abuse of alder buckthorn for more than ten days consecutively may cause a loss of electrolytes (especially the mineral potassium) or may weaken the colon. Long-term use can also cause kidney damage.
The berries and the fresh bark are poisonous to people.