Like other species of the genus Viburnum, cramp bark is an attractive shrub and is used as an ornamental plant in parks and gardens. However, be careful! Its striking red fruit is poisonous: it has a sour flavor that even birds do not eat. But the bark of this plant has medicinal properties. It must not be mistaken with hawthorn, which also renders red fruit. Ancient botanists and physicians seldom used cramp bark. Now that we know its properties, it can be a helpful remedy when administered correctly.
Cramp Bark Scientific Facts
- Other names – Guelder rose, European cranberry.
- Scientific name – Viburnum opulus L.
- French – Viorne.
- Spanish – Bola de nieve.
- Environment – Common in woody, cold, humid regions all over Europe. It is also found in North America.
- Description – Shrub of the Caprifoliaceae family, growing from two to four meters high. It has leaves divided into three or five lobules with toothed borders. Its flowers are white and gather in round bouquets with the smallest flowers in the center. The fruits are small red berries.
- Parts of the plant used medicinally – The bark, when dry.
The bark of this plant contains coumarins and flavonoids, two substances to which its medicinal uses are attributed. It also contains tannin, salicin, resin, and small amounts of viburnum, a bitter component that is the causative agent of its toxic and irritant effects on the digestive tract. The fruits contain higher amounts of viburnum and are thus poisonous.
The bark of this shrub has antispasmodic and sedative properties on the female sexual organs. It relaxes the uterus muscle, calms the pain of the uterus, and calms the pain produced when this organ contracts with spasms. Cramp bark is one of the plant remedies with the most intense action on the uterus. Perhaps its common name is derived from these effects. This plant is recommended for:
- Menstrual pain (dysmenorrhea) calms painful spasms of the uterus (womb) during menstruation.
- Abortion risk – Cramp bark herb relaxes the uterus when there is the risk of spontaneous abortion and can help avoid it. Cramp bark has not been proven to affect the fetus negatively; thus, pregnant women should not have any problem taking it.
- Hemorrhoids and varicose veins – This plant has mildly activating effects on venous blood flow (venotonic). It helps reduce congestion of hemorrhoids and varicose veins, especially when taken in combination with other venotonic plants.
All species of the genus viburnum render poisonous berry fruits. The fruit produces irritation on the digestive tract and gastroenteritis. In the case of poisoning, induce vomiting and administer charcoal.
American Viburnum Species
There are other plants of the genus viburnum with similar appearance and properties to those of cramp bark.
- American viburnum – (Viburnum prunifolium L.), which looks like the wayfaring tree, but grows in North America, in the forests of Canada and the United States.
- Wayfaring tree – (Viburnum lantana L.). This plant is spread throughout Europe. It differs from cramp bark in the shape of its leaves, which are opposed, ellipse-shaped, and fine-tipped, and its fruit has a dark blue color when ripe. You can find red, blue, and mixed-colored berries in the same cluster since they do not ripen simultaneously.
- Viburnum Tinus L. – This plant is common all over Europe. Its fruit is blue. Please don’t mistake it for bilberry.
How to use Cramp Bark
- Decoction with 30 grams of dry, ground bark per liter of water. Drink from three to five cups daily.
George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. “Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants.” George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. Ed. Francesc X. Gelabert. vols. 2 San Fernando de Henares: Editorial Safeliz, 2000. 642, 643. Print.