Chumash: tš̓atǝšwǝ ’ixus Español: Yerba del oso
Origin: Coastal scrub communities and chaparral of California
Flower Color: Greenish White
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
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.