Frangula purshiana (bark)

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Frangula purshiana (DC.) J.G. Cooper   Rhamnaceae  
Standardized common name (English): cascara sagrada

Botanical Voucher Specimen

Organoleptic Characteristics

[Rhamnus purshiana ...] odor distinct; taste disagreeable, bitter, and slightly acrid. Odor characteristic but not powerful; taste nauseous, bitter and persistent.

Source: United States Dispensatory (1918) [1]

Macroscopic Characteristics

Rhamnus purshiana is a small tree, attaining a height of twenty feet. Its leaves are rather thin, elliptic, for the most part briefly acutely pointed, finely serrated, at the base obtuse, somewhat pubescent beneath, from two to seven inches long and from one to three wide. The rather large flowers are in somewhat umbellate cymes; the sepals five; the minute cucullate petals bifid at the apex. The fruit is black, broadly obovoid, four lines long, three-lobed, and three-seeded. The seeds are convex on the back, with a lateral raphe.

Usually in flattened or transversely curved pieces, occasionally in quills; bark from 1 to 5 mm. in thickness; outer surface dark brown or brownish-red, longitudinally ridged, often nearly covered with grayish or whitish lichens, bearing small blackish apothecia, sometimes with numerous lenticels, and occasionally with mosses; inner surface light yellow, light brown, or reddish-brown, longitudinally striate, turning red when moistened with solutions of the alkalies; fracture short, with projections of bast-fibers in the inner bark; in cross section inner bark shows diagonal or curved medullary rays, forming converging groups, the outer bark showing yellowish groups of stone cells which are especially apparent on moistening the freshly cut surface with phloroglucinol T.S. and hydrochloric acid. [...]

In quilled, channelled, or nearly flat pieces from one to two millimetres thick, but varying in length and width. Cork nearly smooth, dark purplish-brown, marked with transversely elongated lenticels, but usually more or less covered with patches of silvery-grey lichen. Inner surface reddish-brown, with faint transverse corrugations and longitudinal striations. Fracture short, but near the inner surface somewhat fibrous. In transverse section, scattered groups of sclerenchymatous cells in both cortex and bast; the parenchymatous cells contain a yellow substance which is colored violet by solution of sodium hydroxide.

Source: United States Dispensatory (1918) [2]

Microscopic Characteristics

Rhamnus purshiana:

Under the microscope, a transverse section of Cascara Sagrada shows an outer yellowish-brown or reddish-brown corky layer consisting of 10 to 15 or more rows of cells; stone cells in outer bark in tangentially elongated groups of 20 to 50 cells, the walls being very thick and finely lamellated; medullary rays 1 to 4 cells wide, 15 to 25 cells deep, the contents being colored red upon the addition of solutions of the alkalies to the sections; bast-fibers in tangentially elongated groups in the inner bark, the walls being thick and strongly lignified; crystal fibers around the bast-fibers with individual crystals from 0.008 to 0.015 mm. in length; parenchyma with spheroidal starch grains about 0.003 to 0.008 mm. in diameter, or with calcium oxalate either in rosette aggregates or prisms from 0.01 to 0.02 mm. in diameter. Add 0.1 Gm. of powdered Cascara Sagrada to 10 mils of hot water, shake the mixture occasionally until cold, filter it and add sufficient water to make 10 mils; on the addition of 10 mils of ammonia water to this liquid, it is colored an orange-yellow. Macerate 0.1 Gm. of powdered Cascara Sagrada with 10 drops of alcohol, boil the mixture with 10 mils of water, when cold filter it and shake the filtrate with 10 mils of ether; a yellow ethereal solution separates. Shake 3 mils of this ethereal solution with 3 mils of ammonia water; the separated ammoniacal solution still possesses, on diluting with 20 mils of water, a distinct, yellowish-red color. The powder is light brown to olive brown, showing characteristic elongated groups of bast-fibers associated with crystal fibers, the crystals in the latter being in the form of monoclinic prisms from 0.008 to 0.015 mm. in length; stone cells in large groups, the cells having thick and finely porous walls; fragments of parenchyma and medullary ray cells colored red upon the addition of solutions of the alkalies; starch grains either free or in parenchyma cells, the individual grains being somewhat spheroidal, from 0.003 to 0.008 mm. in diameter; calcium oxalate in monoclinic prisms or rosette aggregates from 0.01 to 0.02 mm. in diameter; occasional fragments of reddish-brown cork.

The medullary rays in R. purshiana are numerous, thin, for a long distance nearly parallel and straight (according to L. E. Sayre, they converge at their outer ends), run nearly three-quarters of the distance through the bark, and are commonly composed of two rows of cells.

R. frangula contains no stone cells.

Source: United States Dispensatory (1918) [3]

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Fibers showing calcium oxalate prism sheath observed at 400x with Acidified Chloral Hydrate Glycerol Solution.
Source: Elan M. Sudberg, Alkemist Laboratories[4]

Medullary ray in cross section observed at 400x with Acidified Chloral Hydrate Glycerol Solution.
Source: Elan M. Sudberg, Alkemist Laboratories[5]

High Performance Thin Layer Chromatographic Identification

AP-LOGO-Laboratories Crop - Copy.jpg
Rhamnus purshiana HPTLC ID - Natural Product Reagent + PEG UV 365

Cascara (bark) (Rhamnus purshiana)

Lane Assignments Lanes, from left to right (Track, Volume, Sample):

  1. 3 μL Aloin ~0.1% in CH3OH
  2. 2 μL Rhamnus purshiana-1 (bark)
  3. 4 μL Rhamnus purshiana-1 (bark)
  4. 3 μL Rhamnus purshiana-2 (bark)
  5. 3 μL Rhamnus purshiana-2 (bark)
  6. 3 μL Rhamnus purshiana-3 (bark)
  7. 3 μL Rhamnus purshiana-4 (bark)
  8. 3 μL Emodin ~0.1% in CH3OH

Reference materials used here have been authenticated by macroscopic, microscopic &/or TLC studies according to the reference source cited below held at Alkemists Pharmaceuticals, Costa Mesa, CA. 

Stationary Phase Silica gel 60, F254, 10 x 10 cm HPTLC plates 

Mobile Phase ethyl acetate: methanol: water [10/1.35/1] 

Sample Preparation Method 0.3 g + 3 ml CH3OH sonicate/heat @ 50° C ~ 1/2 hr 

Detection Method Natural Product Reagent + PEG -> UV 365 nm 

Reference see Plant Drug Analysis, Wagner, H., 1996

Source: Elan M. Sudberg, Alkemist Laboratories [6]

Supplementary Information


  1. United States Dispensatory (1918)
  2. United States Dispensatory (1918)
  3. United States Dispensatory (1918)
  4. Elan M. Sudberg, Alkemist Laboratories
  5. Elan M. Sudberg, Alkemist Laboratories
  6. Elan M. Sudberg, Alkemist Laboratories
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