Alder-leaved Buckthorn – Rhamnus Alnifolia: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Native Buckthorn of Ontario

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Alderleaf buckthorn AKA Alder-leaved buckthorn (rhamnus alnifolia) is Ontario’s only native buckthorn/rhamnus spp. Sadly it’s much rarer than the very aggressive nonnatives. It has seen some edible and medicinal usage.

Alder-leaved buckthorn (rhamnus alnifolia) is rare around Haliburton. In our flora book it was spotted in one location, along the railroad amoung speckled alders, which is also where I found the one I’ve seen here more recently. There are invasive, nonnative buckthorns, but alderleaf buckthorn is a native shrub. And despite the name, it doesn’t have thorns.

Edible Uses of Alder-leaved Buckthorn

The unpleasant tasting purple berries are not poisonous, but they are purgative/emetic. They may cause severe stomach cramps and vomiting.

The bark extract is used for flavoring soft drinks and sweets.

Medicinal Uses of Alder-leaved Buckthorn

Alder-leaved Buckthorn is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Digestive

Medicinal tags include Emetic and Laxative. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes the fresh bark to induce vomiting if poisoned. The bark of the speckled alder I’ve seen it around has the same effect. So if you desperately need to throw up by wetlands here, you’re in luck.

Buckthorn berries were used along with other ingredients like ginger to make Syrup of Buckthorn, which was once a popular purgative for children. However, it wasn’t a very gentle purgative. There are much less painful treatments for poisoning now including the most common and ever popular charcoal.

Cured dried bark is a non irritating laxative. It’s taken at bedtime and should work in the morning or within a 12 hr. period.

Alternative Uses of Alder Buckthorn

A yellow dye can be obtained from the leaves and bark.

Growing Rhamnus Alnifolia

The nonnative common buckthorn (rhamnus cathartica)
The nonnative common buckthorn (rhamnus cathartica)

Sadly, iNat shows the nonnative common buckthorn (rhamnus cathartica) spotted almost 10x as often as the native alderleaf. This one invaded as an “ornamental shrub”. Glossy buckthorn (frangula alnus) is also on the list of invasive species in Ontario. Glossy often invades wetlands, forming dense bushes and crowding out vital native plants. And besides being invasive, the common buckthorn hosts a fungus that can significantly damage our oat and barley crops.

Native wild ginger may inhibit seedling growth where you are trying to remove invasive buckthorn. Filling a larger space with trees may help when you have acres of it. Best get advice from your local conservation authority. Here is the Ontario invasive plant council’s best management practices for these two.

The native buckthorn is shorter, has 5-parted flowers and the leaves have 5-7 veins per side with rounded teeth. If you see a buckthorn for sale or being given away, make sure it’s r. alnifolia before purchasing. Or check out its close relation New Jersey tea.


And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

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Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

The Herbal Apothecary: 100 Medicinal Herbs and How to Use Them

Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: 550 Herbs and Remedies for Common Ailments

A Modern Herbal (Volume 1, A-H): The Medicinal, Culinary, Cosmetic and Economic Properties, Cultivation and Folk-Lore of Herbs, Grasses, Fungi, Shrubs & Trees with Their Modern Scientific Uses

Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs

Reader’s Digest Magic and Medicine of Plants

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