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Herb Reference Guide

Cramp Bark

History

In North America you will find this 8 to 12 foot deciduous shrub in much of woodlands of the eastern United States. Viburnum is known as Kalyna in the Ukraine and is very much a part of their folk tradition pictured in embroidery work, mentioned in folk songs, and in Slavic mythology. One of the earliest documented examples of adulteration in botanical medicine in the US occurred with this plant. The bark was made official in the U.S. Pharmacopeia in 1894 and was included in the National Formulary in 1916. Widespread adulteration by mountain maple (Acer spicatum) and other Viburnum species led to confusion about the correct source plant. A later review surveyed the botanical, chemical, and pharmacological differences between black haw and cramp bark.

Function

This plant has been traditionally used as a food source (berries) and as a plant remedy. Historically the eclectic physicians recommended it to support the body's adaptation associated with menstruation. It has also been found to be useful for the common complaints associated with normal menstrual cycles. As the plant name suggests, it can be used exactly for just that purpose! The bark contains methyl salicylate which is a weak acting precursor to the salicylic acid that is used in aspirin, but much less irritating to the gastric mucosa albeit weaker in its action. Also traditionally used to help relax bronchial and respiratory muscle spasms associated with cough.

Uses of Cramp Bark

Disclaimer

This information in our Herbal Reference Guide is intended only as a general reference for further exploration, and is not a replacement for professional health advice. This content does not provide dosage information, format recommendations, toxicity levels, or possible interactions with prescription drugs. Accordingly, this information should be used only under the direct supervision of a qualified health practitioner such as a naturopathic physician.

Active Constituents

Coumarin, Salicin, flavonoids and triterpenes such as ursolic acid, hydroxycoumarins, caffeic acid derivatives, phenolcarboxylic acids, and tannins.

Parts Used

  • Bark

Important precautions

Not for use during pregnancy. If you have a medical condition or take pharmaceutical drugs please consult your doctor prior to use.

Additional Resources

Jarboe CH, Zirvi KA, Nicholson JA, Schmidt CM. Scopoletin, an antispasmodic component of Viburnum opulus and V. prunifolium . J Med Chem . 1967;10:488-489.

Hörhammer L, Wagner H, Reinhardt H. Chemistry, pharmacology, and pharmaceutics of the components of Viburnum prunifolium and V. opulus . Botan Mag (Tokyo). 1966;79:510-525.

Youngken HW. The pharmacognosy, chemistry and pharmacology of Viburnum . III. History, botany and pharmacognosy of Viburnum opulus L. Var. americanum . (Miller) Aiton. J Am Pharm Assoc . 1932;21:444-462.