Getting to Know Herbs: Cramp Bark

in #gardening2 years ago (edited)

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.

Key Points

  • 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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Yet we tend to ignore the beauty of nature and herbs around us. Many people till this day use herbs as a method of healing

Before modern medicine, all there was was herbs ;)

They look eerily similar to berries I was warned not to eat as a child on my dads farm growing up in Indiana. I had always thought they might kill me, but maybe it was my kids imagination to the word poison and it would just make me have diarrhea, lol.

Yeah, be careful with the berry bearing plants, some are more dangerous than others ;)

Nice information! These herbs and plants are full of amazing powers.

Nice information!
These herbs and plants are full of
Amazing powers.

                 - akdx

I'm a bot. I detect haiku.

thank you so much for these posts... i had a bug bite in my new tattoo yesterday and found some plantain across the street that did not seem to be dowsed in glycosyphate that I made a spit-poultice out of and used - gone bug bite... I live in Denver and have some property out on the eastern plains - its dry so we don't have all the good stuff like stinging nettles and mugwort and all, but I do intend to plant them once we move out there... we do have yellowdock growing wild and some others. i might actually, inspired by you, do a series of posts on the eastern plains wild herbs... that would help me learn as well. thanks for what you are doing...

Cool, the plantain I posted about recently ;)

the one thing i have to be careful of though is making a spit poultice out of plantain in a lawn that has been doused in glycosyphate... trying to find a patch of plantain that looks like it is simply plantain is challenging in the city.

It sounds like it benefits women more than men. I like that is can easily be grown here in the USA. Thanks @krnel

Yup, good plant for women moreso ;)

Definitely enjoying the "getting to know your herbs" series.

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all these herbs to help them with their menses and they still complain!

You wouldn't like it either if you had to go through it. Count yourself lucky you don't.