Rhamnus frangula

Rhamnus frangula

The alder buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula L., 1753) is an arboreal species belonging to the Ramnaceae family.

Systematics –
From the systematic point of view it belongs to the Eukaryota Domain, United Plantae, Magnoliophyta Division, Magnoliopsida Class, Rosales Order, Rhamnaceae Family and therefore to the Genus Rhamnus and to the R. frangula Species.
The terms are synonymous:
– Frangula alnus Mill. ;
– Frangula dodonei Ard ..

Etymology –
The term Rhamnus comes from the Greek ῥάμνος rhámnos, name attributed to several shrubs by Theophrastus and other Greek authors.
The specific epithet frangula comes from frángo rudere: because of its fragile wood.

Geographical Distribution and Habitat –
The alder buckthorn is a species native to an area between Europe and Asia but with a center in the Attica region of Greece.
Its habitat is that of wet and sandy soils, in the plain or mountain woods, along the banks of rivers or swamps.

Description –
Rhamnus frangula is a shrubby plant that is on average 2-3 m high. but it can even reach 5 m.
The bark is purplish gray or lead gray, with numerous round greyish white lenticels in the young branches and elongated transversely in the old ones.
The plant is generally presented with a few alternate branches that are developed mostly at the ends.
The leaves are brought in alternately and are deciduous; they have a longer petiole than the stipules which are 4–7 cm long, oval elliptic, obtuse or more often sharp, with 8 nerves per side and entire margin. Adults are hairless from slightly hairy youngsters like the very young branches and buds. The short and narrow stipules fall very early.
The flowers are small and collected in axillary fascicles of 2-6, small hermaphrodites 3–4 mm, perigini, with a funnel-shaped glabrous receptacle and 5 glabrous and whitish sepals. They have 5 whitish petals, concave and smaller than sepals.
Each petal has 5 stamens and the ovary has 3 loggias with a single stylus.
The fruits are subspherical drupes of 6-8 mm, first green, then red and finally black-violet when ripe, carried on a 7-10 mm peduncle, with 2 – 3 lenticular seeds, each 5 mm in diameter, of brown-pale color.

Cultivation –
The alder buckthorn is a plant that for its cultivation needs sunny and warm exposures, but must always have a good amount of water available, so much so that it is often found along the banks of streams, rivers or lakes. The ideal soil is moist and morbid. Furthermore this plant is particularly resistant to sea air rich in salt.
The propagation occurs through a woody cutting or the growth from seed and it is possible to cultivate it also in pots.
The seeds must be sown as soon as the fruits have ripened and should not be kept until the following spring. The seedlings, on the other hand, must be free of weeds and must be planted in autumn.
In wet soils the branches grow throughout the summer and bring flowers to the axilla of each leaf, so in summer you can find on each branch buds, flowers, green fruits, then reds, then blacks. In dry places the plant flowers only in spring.
Harvesting takes place like the one used when the bark or cork is to be removed. The part to be harvested is engraved with a well sharpened blade, so as to cut the bark without damaging the wood and gently detaching it. If it does not come off easily then leave it on the tree for a couple of days and then use it later.

Uses and Traditions –
With regard to the Rhamnus frangula plant there is no detailed historical information, although the laxative and purgative properties have been known since antiquity, especially in Ramnunte, a region of Attica where the plant grew copiously and there was the temple of the goddess Nemesis called Ramnusis , from which perhaps Linnaeus was inspired to give it the name.
The main active ingredients present in the plant are from the anthraquinones category. They can be free as the frangula-emodin, or bound to a sugar like the frangula-emodin-ramnoglucoside and the frangulina, but in both cases they exert the same laxative – purgative action.
Bis-glucosides similar to Senna sennosides have also been isolated, always with laxative power, which certainly enhance the already energetic action of anthraquinones.
For this reason the bark of the alder buckthorn is a laxative of the category of those “in contact”, that is its action is expressed because the contact of the anthraquinones with the intestinal mucosa causes an irritation that causes the muscles of the intestine to contract to expel the toxin .
It is of the same class as the Aloe, the Senna and the Ricino, but has a less energetic action than these.
At low doses it can be said that it acts as a laxative, while at higher doses as a true purgative, but in this case the irritation caused on the mucosa can develop ulcer.
In addition to bark, the berries also contain many of the principles indicated above, but cause side effects similar to those given by fresh bark.
In any case it is contraindicated in pregnancy and lactation and in children, for whom ash manna is preferable, more delicate, sweet and just as functional.
It is prohibited for those suffering from colitis or ulcers.
However, the bark should not be used fresh due to the strong irritation of the intestine.
Prolonged use tends to make the colon lazy and become electrolytes.
Despite being a plant that can be used for the preparation of vegetable supplements, this can only be sold in pharmacies.
Similar species include:
– Rhamnus alpina; however the latter has gray-brown bark, with few lenticels, sometimes even large. The plant is more branched, with serrated leaves, and with a dozen nerves per side, it has greenish dioecious flowers.
– Rhamnus rupestris: more widespread in the Karst, with a lower and more compact habit, almost hemispherical bushes, smaller and almost round leaves, harder, with very small teeth on the edge, and often a bit hairy as adults.
In general, the barks of all these Rhamnus have reddish cork but with shades more yellowish or brick red and can be considered more than surrogates of the true alder buckthorn.
In ancient times the coal obtained from the alder buckthorn was used to produce excellent smoke-gunpowder especially in the countries of Eastern Europe, while in Bologna the twigs were used to produce pipe straws.

Preparation Mode –
The alder buckthorn uses the bark of both the stem and the branches, which must be harvested in spring and must dry for at least two years before it can be used or be heated to one hundred degrees for an hour: these two techniques cause it to be lost the ability to irritate the intestinal mucosa, a typical secondary effect of drugs with anthraquinones.
The dried bark varies considerably in appearance depending on the age of the branch or trunk from which it was taken. The young bark, which is to be preferred, is narrow, of paper consistency. Greyish or blackish-brown outside, with numerous small whitish warts. The inner layers are smooth with a crimson color, very finely striated.
The bark is almost odorless, its taste is pleasant, sweet and slightly bitter. When chewed, it colors the saliva yellow.

Guido Bissanti

– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Pharmacy of the Lord, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora of Italy, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (edited by), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.

Attention: Pharmaceutical applications and food uses are indicated for informational purposes only, do not in any way represent a medical prescription; therefore no responsibility is assumed for their use for curative, aesthetic or food purposes.

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