Buckthorn





The common Buckthorn grows in our woods and thickets, and

used to be popularly known because of the purgative syrup made

from its juice and berries. It bears dense branches of small green

flowers, followed by the black berries, which purge violently. If

gathered before they are ripe they furnish a yellow dye. When

ripe, if mixed with gum arabic and lime water, they form the

pigment called Bladder Green. Until late in the present century--

O dura ilia messorum!--English rustics, when requiring an

aperient dose for themselves or their children, had recourse to the

syrup of Buckthorn. But its action was so severe, and attended

with such painful gripings, that as time went on the medicine was

discarded, and it is now employed in this respect almost

exclusively by the cattle doctor. Dodoeus taught about Buckthorn

berries: They be not meet to be administered but to young and

lusty people of the country, which do set more store of their

money than their lives. The shrub grows chiefly on chalk, and

near brooks. The name Buckthorn is from the German buxdorn,

boxthorn, hartshorn. In Anglo-Saxon it was Heorot-bremble. It is

also known as Waythorn, Rainberry Thorn, Highway Thorn and

Rhineberries. Each of the berries contains four seeds: and the flesh

of birds which eat thereof is said to be purgative. When the juice is

given medicinally it causes a bad stomach-ache, with much

dryness of the throat: for which reason Sydenham [70] always

ordered a basin of soup to be given after it. Chemically the active

principle of the Buckthorn is rhamno-cathartine. Likewise a

milder kind of Buckthorn, which is much more useful as a Simple,

grows freely in England, the Rhamnus frangula or so-called

black berry-bearing Alder, though this appellation is a mistake,

because botanically the Alder never bears any berries. This black

Buckthorn is a slender shrub, which occurs in our woods and

thickets. The juice of its berries is aperient, without being

irritating, and is well suited as a laxative for persons of delicate

constitution. It possesses the merit of continuing to answer in

smaller doses after the patient has become habituated to its

use. The berry of the Rhamnus frangula may be known by its

containing only two seeds. Country people give the bark boiled in

ale for jaundice; and this bark is the black dogwood of gunpowder

makers. Lately a certain aperient medicine has become highly

popular with both doctors and patients in this country, the same

being known as Cascara Sagrada. It is really an American

Buckthorn, the Rhamnus Persiana, and it possesses no true

advantage over our black Alder Buckthorn, though the bark of this

latter must be used a year old, or it will cause griping. A fluid

extract of the English mild Buckthorn, or of the American

Cascara, is made by our leading druggists, of which from half to

one teaspoonful may be given for a dose. This is likewise a tonic

to the intestines, and is especially useful for relieving piles.

Lozenges also of the Alder Buckthorn are dispensed under the

name of Aperient Fruit Lozenges; one, or perhaps two, being

taken for a dose as required.



There is a Sea Buckthorn, Hippophoe, which belongs to a

different natural order, Eloeagnaceoe, a low shrubby tree, [71]

growing on sandhills and cliffs, and called also Sallowthorn. The

fruit is made (in Tartary) into a pleasant jelly, because of its acid

flavour, and used in the Gulf of Bothnia for concocting a fish

sauce.



The name signifies giving light to a horse, being conferred

because of a supposed power to cure equine blindness; or it may

mean shining underneath, in allusion to the silvery underside of

the leaf.



The old-fashioned Cathartic Buckthorn of our hedges and woods

has spinous thorny branchlets, from which its name, Rhamnus,

is thought to be derived, because the shrub is set with thorns like

as the ram. At one time this Buckthorn was a botanical puzzle,

even to Royalty, as the following lines assure us:--



Hicum, peridicum; all clothed in green;

The King could not tell it, no more could the Queen;

So they sent to consult wise men from the East.

Who said it had horns, though it was not a beast.





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