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Rhamnus_cathartica - L.

Common Name Common Buckthorn
Family Rhamnaceae
USDA hardiness 3-7
Known Hazards The fruit is purgative but not seriously poisonous[186]. Other parts of the plant may also be poisonous[10, 19, 76, 186]. Adverse effects: Diarrhoea, weakness. Urine may turn dark yellow or red which is harmless. Possible body potassium loss if used for more than 10 consecutive days [301].
Habitats Fen peat, scrub, hedges, ash and oak woods, on calcareous often dry soils[17].
Range Europe, including Britain, from Scandanavia south and east to N. Africa and W. Asia.
Edibility Rating    (0 of 5)
Other Uses    (0 of 5)
Weed Potential Yes
Medicinal Rating    (3 of 5)
Fully Hardy Well drained soil Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun
Rhamnus_cathartica Common Buckthorn

(c) 2010 Ken Fern & Plants For A Future
Rhamnus_cathartica Common Buckthorn
(c) 2010 Ken Fern & Plants For A Future


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Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of shrub
Rhamnus_cathartica is a deciduous Shrub growing to 6 m (19ft) by 3 m (9ft).
It is hardy to zone (UK) 3 and is not frost tender. It is in flower from May to June, and the seeds ripen in October. The species is dioecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but only one sex is to be found on any one plant so both male and female plants must be grown if seed is required). and is pollinated by Insects. The plant is not self-fertile.
It is noted for attracting wildlife.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils and can grow in very alkaline soils.
It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers dry or moist soil.


Cervispina cathartica (L.) Moench


Edible Uses

None known

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Both the bark and the fruit of common buckthorn have been used for their purgative effect upon the body, however they can be rather violent in their action and so are rarely used in human medicines[244]. The berries, harvested when fully ripe, are cathartic, depurative, diuretic, laxative and violently purgative[1, 4, 9, 19, 46, 61, 218, 238]. About 8 - 15 of the mature fruits, chewed before breakfast, are a strong and effective laxative for adults, they should not be used by children[9]. An infusion of the not quite mature fruits is gentler in its action[9]. Use with caution, in large doses the fruit can cause vomiting and violent diarrhoea[9, 21]. The German Commission E Monographs, a therapeutic guide to herbal medicine, approve Rhamnus cathartica for constipation (see [302] for critics of commission E).

Other Uses

A green dye is obtained from the immature fruit[46, 57, 103, 115, 171]. Mixed with gum arabic and limewater, it makes a green pigment used in watercolour painting[238]. Yellow, orange and brownish dyes can also be obtained[100]. The colours are rich but fugitive[4]. A yellow dye is obtained from the bark[61, 100, 115]. It has been used to colour paper and maps[238]. Often grown as an informal hedge, it is also amenable to trimming[21, 186, 200]. Wood - hard, handsome with a marble-like grain. Used for small turnery[46, 61, 74].

Cultivation details

Succeeds in any reasonably good soil[11]. Prefers a dry or moist calcareous soil[1, 4, 9] in sun or light dappled shade[200]. This species is hardy to at least -15°c[238]. Plants regenerate well after cutting or burning but young plants are rather prone to frost damage when grown in an exposed position[186]. Plants are resistant to cattle grazing but young plants can be damaged by rabbits[186]. Plants have a very shallow root system[186]. This species often bears the aecidospore stage of 'crown rust' of oats so it should not be grown near cereals[1, 186]. The species in this genus are notably resistant to honey fungus[200]. A good bee plant[4, 108] and a main food plant for the brimstone butterfly[186]. Dioecious. Male and female plants must be grown if seed is required.


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Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in the autumn in a cold frame. Stored seed will require 1 - 2 months stratification at 5°c and should be sown as early in the year as possible in a cold frame[200]. Prick out the seedlings into individual 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. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, July/August in a frame[113]. Cuttings of mature wood of the current year's growth, autumn in a frame. Layering in early spring[4].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status :

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Readers comment

   Thu Apr 26 2007

It's an invasive exotic plant crowding out the local ecosystem.

Alien Plants

Ken Fern, Plants for a Future   Wed May 9 2007

This species has become quite widely naturalized in N. America, and has been declared a noxious weed in several N. American states. It should not, therefore, be encouraged to grow outside its natural range unless you are sure it will not spread into the wild and have a negative effect upon the native flora[K].

Majid Pedram   Wed Oct 31 2007

HI , may you please tell me the authors name of Rhamnus catharica genus as well as the date of descriptin? Thanks, Majid Pedram, faculty of Agriculture, University of Tabriz, Tabriz-Iran

   Mar 23 2014 12:00AM

Here in Ontario,Canada it gets to well below -15 C and this tree survives, thrives.

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