Cramp bark is one of the best herbs for women, since it can be used throughout most of a woman’s life. Medicinal uses include the relieve of pain and cramps in the abdominal region, cancer treatment, scurvy (a disease caused by vitamin C deficiency), pain and swelling of the uterus, kidney pain, swollen glands, mumps disease and eye disorders.
Indigenous people of North America used it to treat spasms, cramps, arthritis and muscle aches. They also smoked it as a substitute for tobacco.
What is Cramp Bark?
As it name suggest, this is the bark of type of wild cranberry (it is not related to cranberry, but the berries look similar) bush that is part of the honeysuckle family. This plant has many names, scientifically it is called viburnum opulus and commonly it is called snowball tree, water elder, cranberry bush and Guelder-rose.
It grows in Europe, Central Asia and North America. The Dutch claim to have found this tree in the forest of Scandinavia. However, it is said to be native to the lowland forests of England and Scotland. Cramp bark is now one of the national symbols of Ukraine. This country included the tree in the legend of Kalyna, who was a goddess during the birth of the universe. In this country, this plant symbolizes the birth of a young girl, family ties and sacrifice on the battlefield.
Identifying this wild cranberry bush is easy during the fall since it produces shiny, bright red berries that form in clusters from vibrant maroon red branches. Birds are attracted to the berries and are responsible for its reproduction, as are pollinators. Leaves are maple shaped with a rounded base. These leaves contain both the flowers and the berries.
During spring or summer, this this high bush may be confused with Douglas maple. Young branches turn golden during winter allowing people to identify this plant. Cramp Bark grows well next to streams and riverbanks. It likes soil that is alkaline or has a high pH and can grow up to 16 feet in height.
The best time to harvest is after it has given its fruit and before it puts its energy into flowering. So this would be between late fall to early spring. Pick young stems that have a golden hue, rather than the harder, more mature branches. Peel or scrape the tender bark off the harder inner wood. Under the outer bark is the cambium, which is soft and sticky. This is where the plant’s sap flows, so make sure to scrape it as well.
Those who can’t source cramp bark from the wild, can also get it from a herbalist, health store or online.
How to Use Cramp Bark
You can make your own tincture or buy it if you do not have access to this herb. A tincture extracts all the medical benefits of the herb. It is quite easy to make a tincture, all you need is the herbs and the extractor which is usually high quality alcohol that is over 80 proof. Tinctures can also be made from vegetable glycerin or even apple cider vinegar.
You can combine your cramp bark tincture with other herbs such as chamomile, lavender or any herb for women. Place them in a jar and cover them with the liquid extractor. Leave this mixture in a dark and cool place for four to six weeks. Strain after with a cheesecloth or coffee filter and store in a dark bottle. Four to six drops of the tincture can be placed in a glass of water once or twice per day. Specific doses may vary according to the person and the condition, so it is best to consult with a specialist.
Cramp bark tea can be done by simmering two teaspoons of dried bark in water for 10-15 minutes. It can be consumed hot three times a day. Consuming tea is a lot less powerful than the tincture, but it is also effective for short term use. Those with chronic pain or severe cramps should use the tincture.
Cramp bark’s flavor is very unpleasant, since it is said to taste like a bark flavored whisky. Which is why some people prefer to take this medicinal herb in a pill form. The bark is grounded into a fine powder which makes it easier to consume.
Active components of this herb include tannins, caffeic acid derivatives, phenolcarboxylic acids, hydroxycoumarins, coumarin, salicin, flavonoids and triterpenes. Therefore it has analgesic and anti inflammatory effects.
Cramp Bark Benefits
Period Cramps and Menstrual Cycles
Historically this herb has been used to support the body’s adaptation related to menstruation. Most women suffer from period cramps, which is the main use for this herb. This plant effectively “relax[es] the uterine muscle by acting as antispasmodics and are used to relieve cramping,” according to an article called “A Healthy Menstrual Cycle” by Joseph Mayo.
This bark contains methyl salicylate, which is a weaker version of the salicylic acid found in aspirin, but is not as irritating to the gastric mucosa. It can calm other symptoms associated with cramps such as nausea, vomiting and sweaty chills.
This herb is an effective alternative measure for pain management caused by endometriosis, which is a condition where tissue that normally covers the inside of the uterus grows on the outside of the uterus. Endometriosis causes intense abdominal pain. Cramp bark can also treat other gynecological issues such as ovarian cysts. It is useful for short term use both in tea and tincture form.
The use of cramp bark during pregnancy has mixed opinions, so make sure to consult with your doctor or herbalist before using this herb. It is used as a spasmolytic (or antispasmodic) to prevent miscarriage. Active substances (scopoletin and aesculetin) found in this herb have this effect on the uterus. It is used if there are threats of miscarriage, as well as premature labor. Traditionally this herb has been used to manage pain associated with child birth and postpartum.
It may sound strange, but some herbs have opposite effects on the body depending on how and when they are used. Using it alone or with other herbs also creates different effects.
Cramp bark is known to stop muscle spasms and aches throughout the body, including the back and legs. Not only related with menstrual problems. This herbal remedy is a safer alternative to NSAIDs, which have dangerous side effects including stomach bleeding, stroke and heart attack.
Anti Cancer Effects
Research done on animals show that the extract of the juice of these berries (gilaburu juice) may have anti cancer and anti tumor properties. A study published in the Journal of Cancer Research and Therapeutics showed its anti tumor activity, while another one evaluated the effects on colon cancer.
The use of cramp bark may prevent kidney stones since it is high in citrate. Some people develop this condition because they don’t have citrate in their urine. Citrate can also be found in foods, especially limes and lemons. A study showed that this herb in combination with medicine helped people expel kidney stones faster and required less pain medication.
Precautions of Using Cramp Bark
This herb is considered safe and has no reported side effects. However, the plant should not be eaten in large doses since it may be toxic and could cause vomiting and diarrhea. Follow instructions on use if taking it for medicinal purposes.
People who are sensitive to aspirin may have problems with this herb. Do not use it on young children. Talk to your healthcare provider if you are pregnant or nursing.