COFFEEBERRY

Rhamnus californica

Chumash: tš̓atǝšwǝ ’ixus Español: Yerba del oso

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Plant Description

Category: Shrub

Origin: Coastal scrub communities and chaparral of California

Evergreen: Yes
Flower Color: Greenish White

Bloomtime: Spring

Other names: California Coffeeberry, California Buckthorn, Leatherleaf Coffeeberry

Height: 6-8 feet

Width: 6-8 feet

Exposure: Sun or Shade

Summer Dry: Yes

Irrigation (H2O Info): Low Water Needs

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The name “coffeeberry” comes from the berries that mature from lime green to red and then black, and contain coffee-bean-shaped seeds. Coffeeberry is not known for its flowers, which are almost unnoticeable. Coffeeberry bark is a popular herbal remedy for chronic constipation.

It is sold commercially under the name of Cascara Sagrada. The preparation is tricky (it involves aging it for a year followed by extensive heat treatment and tincture preparation) so it is not recommend to just chew on some raw stuff. Berries were gathered historically by West Coast Indian tribes for cooking as well as medicinal purposes. 

Chumash believed the berries of "yerba del oso" (bear's grass, in Spanish) to be toxic to humans, but not to bears. The leaves were rubbed on the skin to soothe rheumatism. Bathing in a decoction of leaves was said to soothe poison oak rash. The bark was used as a laxative. They resemble commercial coffee beans, however, attempts at using coffeberry as coffee substitute have not be successful. They are a good grazing food for animals and birds.

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