Rhamnus. (Rhamnus Purshiana, U. S. P.)

Rhamnus catharticus (Buckthorn) is of wide distribution, prevailing over Northern Africa, most of Europe, the Caucasus, and into Siberia. In some instances it becomes almost a small tree, Flückiger having a specimen 8 inches in diameter. It was known as a laxative before the Norman Conquest, being called Waythorn or Hartshorn. The Welsh physicians of the 13th century (507) prescribed the berries, under the name Syrup of Buckthorn, a title which, recognized by all writers on domestic or official medicine, still prevails. In the London Pharmacopeia, 1650, this syrup, aromatized, became official.

The official drug of the Pharmacopeia (Rhamnus purshiana) is not only related botanically to the above, but is therapeutically similar, being laxative in small doses and cathartic in large doses. The tree (Rhamnus purshiana) is distributed over the mountain ranges of the Western Pacific States, being most abundant in California and Oregon. Possibly collectors do not distinguish between this species and Rhamnus californica. To the settlers of that region it has long been known as Chittim wood, an infusion of the bark being used as a cathartic.

Dr. J. H. Bundy, an Eclectic physician of Colusa, California, impressed with its value, brought the bark, under the name Cascara Sagrada, to the attention of Parke, Davis & Co., of Detroit, Michigan. This energetic firm introduced it in 1877, through the columns of their publication, New Preparations, (1877 and 1878).

The remedy became a great favorite, and within a reasonable period was in demand throughout the civilized world, becoming official in the Pharmacopeia of the United States, 1890.

The remarkable record of this drug has been a subject of many contributions to botanical and therapeutical literature, much of interest even now remaining unwritten. To this writer its journey from the aborigines to scientific use and therapeutic study appears to parallel the course of such drugs as coca, jalap, benzoin, sassafras, croton tiglium, etc.

Summary.—To Dr. J. H. Bundy, Colusa, California, 1877, is due the credit of introducing the bark of Rhamnus Purshiana (Cascara Sagrada) to the medical profession.

To "New Preparations," Parke, Davis & Co., of Detroit, Michigan, (1877 and 1878) is due the credit of bringing the drug to the attention of physicians and pharmacists. The firm of Parke, Davis & Co. introduced to the world the preparations of this drug, of which they were, for some years, the sole manufacturers.

A descriptive treatise that will record some unwritten phases of its dramatic history, familiar only to those concerned in its introduction, should not be lost to posterity. The following, contributed by this writer to the Research Committee of the American Pharmaceutical Association (vol. 44, 1896) is a brief summary.

History and Names of Rhamnus Purshiana. (Cascara Sagrada)


Contribution to the Research Committee of the American Pharmaceutical Association (Introductory to a contribution from chemical investigations of Rhamnus Purshiana, undertaken by Alfred R. L. Dohme.)

In a paper contributed to "New Preparations, " (New Preparations, Detroit, Parke, Davis & Co.) October 15, 1877, p. 8, the late Dr. J. H. Bundy, an Eclectic physician of Colusa, California, commended "Cascara Sagrada" as a valuable remedy in the treatment of constipation. This notice was by means of a brief note that was part of a paper on Berberis aquifolium, Dr. Bundy promising, however, to give it further attention, as follows:

"It is not my purpose to treat on Cascara Sagrada in this paper, but using it in connection with the Berberis, I simply make mention of it. In the future I will introduce the drug to the profession."

This, so far as the writer can determine, was the first reference concerning this remedy in pharmaceutical or medical print. Agreeably to promise, in January, 1878 (New Preparations, January, 1878, p. 1.) Dr. Bundy contributed a paper on the subject, "Cascara Sagrada," in which he gave the uses of fluid extract of "Cascara Sagrada." Following this came many papers from Dr. Bundy and other physicians, twenty contributions on the subject being printed in "New Preparations," 1878, to which journal, with few exceptions, the subject was confined during 1877 and 1878. Dr. Bundy stated in his paper (1878) "A description of the Cascara I am unable to give at this time, but suffice it to say that it is a shrub, and in due time its botanical name will be known." He neglected, however, to concern himself further in the matter.

In the fall of 1878, Dr. C. H. Adair, of Colusa, California, a partner of Dr. Bundy, sent the writer specimens of the bark and botanical specimens of the tree yielding it. These, on identification by Mr. Curtis G. Lloyd, proved to be Rhamnus Purshiana. This fact was announced in a paper on "Some Specimens of Western Plants," presented to the American Pharmaceutical Association held at the meeting in Atlanta, Ga., November, 1878, (Proceedings, 1879, p. 707) and completed the drug's history.

Names.—Dr. Bundy supplied the drug under the Spanish name "Cascara Sagrada," a name said to have been in local use throughout some sections of California, which soon came to be the common name of the drug, and will surely dominate all others as long as the drug is in use. The anglicised name "Sacred Bark" has also been applied to the drug, and the Scriptural term Chittim bark was also employed in early days in some parts of California, but these last names are now obsolete.

The History of the Vegetable Drugs of the U.S.P., 1911, was written by John Uri Lloyd.