Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)

Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), also known as Purging Buckthorn, is native to Europe, northwest Africa, and western Asia.

  • Common Buckthorn Tree  -  Rhamnus Cathartica  -  Leaves
  • Common Buckthorn Tree  -  Rhamnus Cathartica  -  Berries And Leaves

Useful info about Common Buckthorn trees

Latin NameRhamnus cathartica
TypeDeciduous (loses its leaves in winter)
HeightCan grow up to 6 - 8 metres (20 - 30 feet)
SpreadThe branches can spread out to 3 - 5 metres (10 - 15 feet)
Soil Types PreferredChalk, Loam, Sand
Locations SuitableFarmland, Hedgerows
FlowersYellow - green flowers in Spring
FruitBlack fruits in summer

Similar Species


Common Buckthorn is a deciduous shrub or small tree growing to 6–8 m tall, with grey-brown bark and spiny branches.

The leaves are elliptic to oval, 2.5–9 cm long and 1.2–3.5 cm broad; they are green, turning yellow in autumn, and are arranged somewhat variably in opposite to subopposite pairs or alternately. The flowers are yellowish-green, with four petals, are dioecious and insect pollinated.

The fruit is a globose black drupe 6–10 mm diameter containing two to four seeds; it is mildly poisonous for people, but readily eaten by birds, which disperse the seeds in their droppings.

The Common Buckthorn is shade-tolerant, moderately fast-growing and short-lived. This species is a tough, durable tree which adapts to urban or suburban environments, and virtually any area it is dispersed in. It is widely regarded as a major invasive species whose shade prevents the establishment of native trees or shrubs.

It has become the target of efforts to eradicate it from home sites, parks and woodland areas. It is difficult to control because it sprouts vigorously and repeatedly from the root collar following cutting, girdling, or burning, though it can be controlled by applying concentrated herbicide to the cut stem.

The species was originally named by Linnaeus as Rhamnus catharticus, but this spelling was corrected to cathartica as the genus name Rhamnus is of feminine gender.

It is a food plant of the Brimstone butterfly. The sulphur-yellow males are indicative of the plant's presence.


The species was used for hedging in Elizabethan gardens, but after the introduction of the Japanese Ligustrum ovalifolium (Oval-leaved Privet) to Europe, it soon lost out in popularity to the newcomer, because although both are technically semi-evergreen, the Oval-leaved Privet keeps its leaves better in winter.

The bark and fruit were used as a purgative in the past, though their potentially dangerous violent action and side effects means they are now rarely used.

The wood is hard and dense, but little-used.

The fruits and bark were also used to make dyes.


Any uses for trees or tree extracts, whether edible or medicinal, have not been tried or tested by EFORESTS.

Please take caution and seek proper advice before attempting any recipes or medicinal extracts from any of the trees listed on our site.

Culture and Symbolism

When Common Buckthorn was used as a purgative (laxative) it was believe to help heal people of illness and disease.

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