Common Buckthorn

Botanical Name :Rhamnus cathartica
Family: Rhamnaceae
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Rosales
Genus: Rhamnus
Subgenus: Rhamnus
Species: R. cathartica

Common Names:Buckthorn, common buckthorn or purging buckthorn

Habitat :Common Buckthorn is native to Europe, northwest Africa, and western Asia, from the central British Isles south to Morocco, and east to Kyrgyzstan. It was introduced to North America as an ornamental shrub in the early 19th century or perhaps before.

Description:
Rhamnus cathartica is a deciduous shrub or small tree growing up to 10 m tall, with grey-brown bark and spiny branches. The leaves are elliptic to oval, 2.5–9 cm long and 1.2–3.5 cm broad; they are green, turning yellow in autumn, and are arranged somewhat variably in opposite to subopposite pairs or alternately. The flowers are yellowish-green, with four petals; they are dioecious and insect pollinated. The fruit is a globose black drupe 6–10 mm diameter containing two to four seeds; it is mildly poisonous for people, but readily eaten by birds, which disperse the seeds in their droppings.

The species was originally named by Linnaeus as Rhamnus catharticus, but this spelling was corrected to cathartica as the genus name Rhamnus is of feminine gender

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The main stem is erect, the bark smooth, of a blackish-brown colour, on the twigs ash-coloured. The smaller branches ge.nerally terminate in a stout thorn or spine, hence the ordinary name of Buckthorn, and the older names by which the shrub has been known: Highwaythorn and Waythorn. Gerard calls it Ram or Hart’s Thorn. The leaves grow in small bunches on footstalks, mostly opposite towards the base of the young shoots, though more generally alternate towards the apex. They are eggshaped and toothed on the edges, the younger ones with a kind of soft down. In the axils of the more closely arranged leaves, developed from the wood of the preceding year, are dense branches of small greenish-yellow flowers, about one-fifth inch across, which are followed by globular berries about the size of a pea, black and shining when ripe, and each containing four hard, dark-brown seeds.

Goats, sheep and horses browse on this shrub, but cows refuse it. Its blossoms are very grateful to bees.

Similar species:-  Glossy buckthorn:
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The related invasive glossy buckthorn (Frangula alnus) has untoothed leaves and flowers with five petals rather than four. It lacks a thorn at the tip of its branches and its terminal buds are notcovered by scales. It has 8 or9 leaf veins rather than the 3to 5 of common buckthorn.

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Cultivation:  Buckthorn is seldom cultivated, the berries being collected from thewild shrubs, but it can be easily raised from seed in autumn, soon after the berries are ripe, usually about September, but if left too late the berries soften and will not bear carriage well. The shrub may also be propagated like any other hardy deciduous tree or shrub by cuttings or layers: if the young shoots be laid in autumn, they will have struck roots by the following autumn, when they may be separated and either planted in a nursery for a year or two, or at once planted in permanent quarters. Buckthorn is not so suitable for hedges as the hawthorn.
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Constituents:  Buckthorn berry juice contains Rhamnocathartin (which is yellowand uncrystallizable), Rhamnin, a peculiar tannic acid, sugar and gum. The fresh juice is coloured red by acids and yellow by alkalies, and has a bitter taste and nauseous odour. Its specific gravity should be between 1.035 and 1.070, but it is seldom sold pure. The ripe berries yield on expression 40 to 50 percent of juice of a green colour, which on keeping turns, however, gradually to a reddish or purplish brown colour, on account of the acidification of the saccharine and mucilaginous matter.

Medicinal Action and Uses: Laxative and cathartic.
Buckthorn was well known to the AngloSaxons and is mentioned as Hartsthorn or Waythorn in their medical writings and glossaries dating before the Norman Conquest. The Welsh physicians of the thirteenth century prescribed the juice of the fruit of Buckthorn boiled with honey as an aperient drink.

The medicinal use of the berries was familiar to all the writers on botany and materia medica of the sixteenth century, though Dodoens in his Herbal wrote: ‘They be not meat to be administered but to the young and lusty people of the country which do set more store of their money than their lives.’

Until late in the nineteenth century, syrup of Buckthorn ranked, however, among favourite rustic remedies as a purgative for children, prepared by boiling the juice with pimento and ginger and adding sugar, but its action was so severe that, as time went on, the medicine was discarded. It first appeared in the London Pharmacopceia of 1650, where, to disguise the bitter taste of the raw juice, it was aromatized by means of aniseed, cinnamon, mastic and nutmeg. It was still official in the British Pharmacopoeia of 1867, but is no longer so, being regarded as a medicine more fit for animals than human beings, and it is now employed almost exclusively in veterinary practice, being commonly prescribed for dogs, with equal parts of castor oil as an occasional purgative.

The flesh of birds eating the berries is stated to be purgative.

There used to be a superstition that the Crown of Thorns was made of Buckthorn.

Toxity:
The seeds and leaves are considered toxic to humans and animals, causing stomach cramps and laxative effects thought to serve a function in seed dispersal. The chemical compounds responsible for this laxative effect are anthraquinone and emodin.

In 1994 there was implication of R. cathartica in the outbreak of an idiopathic neurological disease in horses, though no causative agent was officially identified. In trials where rodents were fed the leaves and stems of R. cathartica, glycogen metabolism became abnormal and glycogen deposits formed in the cytoplasm of liver cells. Abnormalities in glycogen metabolism lead to diabetes in humans.

Disclaimer:
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

Resources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhamnus_cathartica
http://mnfi.anr.msu.edu/invasive-species/CommonBuckthornBCP.pdf
http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/b/buckth80.html

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