Cramp bark is the common North American name. It's a highbush cranberry that also goes by the name European cranberrybush (although not closely related to cranberry). It's easily recognized by the red berries that stay on throughout winter.
Photo by @krnel
Cramp Bark is also commonly known as European Cranberrybush, as well as Bois à Quenouille, Boule de Neige, Common Guelder-Rose, Crampbark, Cranberry Bush, European Cranberry-Bush, Guelder Rose, Guelder-Rose, High Bush Cranberry, High-bush Cranberry, Obier, Rose de Gueldre, Snowball Bush, Viburno Opulus, Viburnum opulus, Viorne Aquatique, Viorne Aubier, Viorne Obier, Viorne Trilobée, and Water Elder.
The plant grows 13 to 16 feet tall, or 4-5 meters, with leaves that resemble some maple trees. The flowers are white and come in early summer. The fruit is is a bright red and is 7-10 mm wide, with a single seed that get dispersed by birds.
- edible cranberry-like taste
- slightly toxic (vomiting, diarrhea only)
- long history of use and symbolism in Ukraine
- treats muscle spasms and contractions, especially helpful for women
Cramp bark is a national symbol for the Ukraine, called kalyna, and is mentioned throughout Ukrainian folklore in songs, art and embroidery. The symbolic roots can be traced to Slavic pagan origins thousands of years ago.
The berries symbolize blood and the undying trace of family roots. Kalyna represents beauty of a young lady in Slavic paganism. In Russia the name kalina and the song Kalinka come from this plant. In Ukrainian legend, kalyna was associated with the birth of the universe and the trinity of fire: the sun, moon and star.
Where is it found?
Cramp bark is native to Europe and central Asia, northern Africa, and has been naturalized in North America. It grows best on moist and alkaline soils, but also tolerates most other soil types.
What's it used for?
The flowers are used for ornamental purposes, and so too are the berries. The fruit is edible in small quantities with a strong acidic taste. Often a forgotten berry, it can been harvested in the winter when snow is abound. It's been used for Amerindians, and has been made into jelly and jam by Eurpoean settlers.
It's mildly toxic, where eating too much can result in vomiting or diarrhea.
The name cramp bark comes from the medicinal bark that is used to treat cramp-related issues, especially in women. It soothes muscle spasms, cramps and contractions, mainly of the non-striated muscles of the intestines and the uterus. The most common use is for menstrual pain caused by uterine contractions and premenstrual tension. It's safe to use during pregnancy for contractions. It can also be used as a kidney stimulant to treat urinary conditions.
It's also been used to treat endometriosis, dysmenorrhea and ovarian cysts. It has been used to prevent miscarriages as well.
Cramp bark is often combined with other herbs for menstrual problems, such as red raspberry, as they work well together as medicinal herbs.
Native Amerindians used it to treat swollen glands, fluid retention, mumps and eye disorders. They also smoked cramp bark in substitution for tobacco.
Other uses include cancer, hysteria, infection, nervous disorders, a vitamin-deficiency condition called scurvy, and pain and swelling (inflammation) of the uterus (uteritis). It also can increase urine flow and to induce vomiting.
The chemicals that decrease muscle spasms might also lower blood pressure and decrease the heart rate.
Are there any risks?
Being mildly toxic, it should be limited in quantity to avoid vomiting or diarrhea. But it's safe otherwise.
Previous posts on Getting to Know Herbs:
Motherwort | Common Plantain | Eleuthero (Siberian ginseng) | Black Cohosh | Common Bearberry | Mahonia Mountain Grape (Oregon Grape) | Blue Cohosh | Goldenseal
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