Cramp bark, also known as Guelder Rose is a very decorative shrub, which is often grown in gardens for their showy white flowers and pretty leaves, which turn bright red in the autumn. The red berries persist into the winter. There are about 150 species in this genus. Viburnum opulus is called 'European Cramp Bark' to distinguish it from its close relative Viburnum opulus var. americanum. There are also a number of other closely related Viburnum species that are at home in North America and which have long served in as Native American remedies. In medicine it is usually the bark that is used, although the berries are very rich in vitamine C and have sometimes been made into a kind of medicinal jam, their taste when eaten raw is rather bitter. The tart flavour and the looks of the berries have also earned this plant the nickname of highbush cranberry, although of course it is in no way related with real cranberries. Instead, it is a distant cousin of the elder tree. In Siberia, a liquor is distilled from the berries. Upon drying the berries turn black and can be used to make ink. Native Americans have been known to smoke the bark of Viburnum and occasionally add it to their kinnikkinnik mixture.
Cramp bark is an excellent relaxant remedy, with anti-spasmodic action on the smooth and striated muscles. It can be used in all conditions where tension needs to be eased to give pain relieve, e.g. in crampy painful menstruation, colic and other spasmodic digestive troubles such as stomach cramps or liver and gallbladder colic. It can be used in cases of threatened miscarriage and also in excessive bleeding as a symptom of menopause. Native Americans also used Cramp bark as a diuretic and diaphoretic and employed it to reduce swollen glands as in cases of mumps. They also used the fruits and leaves to treat bladder inflammation, scurvy and diabetes. However, the berries may cause diarrhoea and vomiting.
Cramp bark is deeply relaxing. It can be used as an aid to meditation, to let go of the stress and tension of the day in order to reach higher ground and a more relaxed and detached perspective. When one is feeling all uptight and tied up in life's problems and anxieties cramp bark loosens the shackles of angst.
Not all herbs are suitable in pregnancy, breastfeeding or for young children, or if you are unwell, or taking any medication. If in doubt, please ask a medical herbalist or healthcare practitioner.