Cascara is the name of a new latte at Starbucks.
It’s also the name of a small tree that grows in the coastal regions of the Pacific Northwest — a tree known for its extreme laxative properties.
The new latte was news to University of Puget Sound professor Vanessa Koelling.
“That is an interesting choice,” Koelling said Thursday. “My grandfather would have gotten a good chuckle out of that.”
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Koelling is a plant evolutionary biologist. She grew up in Oregon, where she spent a lot of time learning the ways of the woods.
“You needed to know what cascara looked like so you didn’t cut a marshmallow roasting stick from it,” Koelling said. “Because you would wind up squatting in the woods instead of enjoying your marshmallow.”
The new coffee beverage from Starbucks incorporates a sweetened cascara syrup. It’s made from the husk that surrounds the coffee bean as it grows on the bush.
In the Northwest, cascara bark was first used by Native Americans for their occasional internal log jams.
The demure deciduous tree grows in the understory of conifer forests.
Collecting the bark used to be big business in the Pacific Northwest. Beginning in the 1800s, pharmaceutical companies used it in over-the-counter laxatives.
Today it’s mostly sold as a dietary supplement, according to the National Institutes of Health.
“It’s not necessarily your best constipation treatment option,” Koelling said. High doses can lead to severe abdominal cramping and other side effects.
The Starbucks drink doesn’t contain any tree cascara (which means bark or husk in Spanish). Coffee already has its laxative effects.