- Family Caprifoliaceae
- Viburnum prunifolium
- Viburnum opulus
- Cramp Bark, Guelder Rose, Stagbush, American Sloe, European Cranberry, Snowball Tree, King’s Crown, High Bush Cranberry, Red Elder, Rose Elder, Water Elder, May Rose, Whitsun Rose, Dog Rowan Tree, Whitsun Bosses, Silver Bells, Wild Guelder Rose, Sweet Viburnum
- Do not use if allergic to aspirin.
V. prunifolium is an American species, a deciduous shrub that can reach fifteen feet, producing serrated oval leaves, clusters of white flowers, and blue-black berries. The fruit of V. opulus is red and native to both North America and Europe. The plant grows in woodlands, hedges, and thickets. The bark is gray-brown on the outside and reddish brown on the inside. It is stripped from the stems in spring before flowering, while the root bark is collected in the fall from the root.
Well known in the 14th century, Chaucer even suggested eating the berries.
Many tribes, including the Iroquois, Shuswap, and Ojibwa, have used the berries for food; but the Iroquois used the berries to treat liver and blood disorders. The Micmac, Penobscot, and Malecite tribes used the bark to treat swollen glands and such related conditions as mumps. The Meskwaki people took the herb for cramps and pains throughout the body. The Catawba people used black haw bark to treat dysentery. Native American tribes in the Northeast used the bark and the leaves as a diuretic and to treat swollen glands and eye problems.
The herb was a favourite with the Eclectics of 19th century America.
Also in the 19th century, a tea made from the black haw bark was considered a “uterine tonic” and taken routinely by women to relieve menstrual cramps. Even in the 20th century before the advent of Midol and ibuprophen to treat such cramps, a product called Hayden’s Viburnum Compound, made from black haw and reputed to taste and smell particularly vile, was marketed to women for the same purpose.
In Canada, the berries are sometimes substituted for cranberries to make a piquant relish. When dried, the berries turn black, and were once used to make ink.
It was listed in the US Pharmacopoeia between 1894 and 1916 as a sedative and antispasmodic, particularly effective in relieving muscle spasms from back pain and menstrual pain.
- cardiac tonic
- muscle relaxant
- uterine relaxant
- bitter substance (viburnin)
- valerianic acid
- tannins (3%)
- coumarins (scopoletin, scoplin, aesculetin)
- salicin, salicylic acid
- minerals (including calcium, chromium, cobalt, iron, magnesium, and silicon)
- Bark, root bark
- Scopoletin is a coumarin compound that appears to help relax smooth muscles and may inhibit blood clotting.
- Tinctures are used as relaxants for nervous or muscular tension and for colicky conditions of the intestines, gallbladder, and urinary system. They can be added to digestive remedies for irritable bowel or combined with other herbs to treat constipation.
- Creams or lotions are applied to muscle cramps or shoulder tension.
(b) Root Bark
- Tinctures are used for menstrual pain or pain after childbirth, as well as for menopausal syndrome. It can be added to other remedies to treat high blood pressure.
- Decoctions are less effective than the tincture, but a strong one will help menstrual pain.
Although both species are used interchangeably, the American variety has an even more important specific action in relaxing the uterus. It has long been used to treat such gynecological conditions as uterine prolapse, heavy menopausal bleeding, morning sickness, and threatened miscarriages.
V. opulus is less potent than the root bark of V. prunifolium, but still an effective muscle relaxant. It also sedates the nervous system and is particularly useful when physical and emotional tensions are combined. It relaxes the cardiovascular system in high blood pressure and eases constipation associated with tension. Applied externally, it will relieve muscle cramps.
As a muscle relaxant, the herb is effective in relieving any overtense muscle, including the smooth muscles of the intestines, airways, or uterus, as well as the striated muscles attached to the skeleton. It may be taken internally or applied externally to relieve muscle tension, including during asthma attacks and menstrual pain, as well as some cases of arthritis where joint weakness and pain cause the muscles to contract to where they are almost rigid.
The herb is also commonly used in treatments for high blood pressure, reduce inflammations in arthritis, calm bronchial spasms related to asthma, and treat other circulatory conditions.