Alder Buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula)

Botanical Name: Rhamnus frangula
Family:    Rhamnaceae
Genus:    Rhamnus
Species:    R. frangula
Kingdom:    Plantae
Order:    Rosales
Vernacular name(s): alder buckthorn
Scientific family name: Rhamnaceae
Vernacular family name: buckthorn
Other Names: Alder buckthorn, alder dogwood, arrowwood, black alder dogwood, black alder tree, black dogwood, European black alder, European buckthorn, Persian berries.
Plant Category: fruits, shrubs,
Plant Characteristics: decorative berries or fruit, spreading,
Foliage Characteristics: deciduous,
Foliage Color: dark green,
Flower Color: greens,
Habitat : Alder Buckthorn  is native to Europe, northernmost Africa, and western Asia, from Ireland and Great Britain north to 68°N in 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 naturalised in eastern North America.   It grows mostly on damp and peaty soil, near bogs, in marshes, damp moorland and open woodland.
Alder Buckthorn is a deciduous shrub, growing to 3–6 m, occasionally to 7 m tall. It is usually multistemmed, 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. 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 frugivorous birds, which readily eat the fruit…….click & see the pictures

Description & 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.

Parts Used in medicines: 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.

Medicinal Properties:
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.

General symptoms of poisoning:
*abdominal pains

Notes on poisoning:

Children who ingest the plant material usually experience mild symptoms of poisoning such as transient abdominal pains, vomiting, and diarrhea. If 20 or more berries are ingested, symptoms may include gastrointestinal symptoms, fluid depletion, kidney damage, muscular convulsions, and hemorrhage. In severe cases, difficult breathing and collapse may occur. Severe poisoning is rare because of induced vomiting. Treatment should replace lost fluids and induce vomiting if it has not occurred (Cooper and Johnson 1984, Fuller and McClintock 1985).

The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.

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