Cascara sagrada is an herbal remedy that used to be a common ingredient in some over-the-counter (OTC) laxatives.
The bark comes from a tree called the California buckthorn. Rhamnus purshiana (cascara buckthorn, cascara, bearberry, and in the Chinook Jargon, chittem and chitticum; syn. Frangula purshiana, Rhamnus purshianus) is a species of buckthorn native to western North America from southern British Columbia south to central California, and eastward to northwestern Montana.
The dried bark of cascara has been used for centuries as a laxative, first by Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest, and then by European/U.S. colonizers.
The chemicals primarily responsible for the laxative action are the hydroxyanthracene glycosides (particularly cascarosides A, B, C, and D), and emodin. These act as stimulant laxatives, with the hydroanthracene glycosides stimulating peristalsis, and emodin exciting smooth muscle cells in the large intestine.