A practical guide for nutritional and traditional health care.
Crampbark (botanical name Viburnum opulus) is basically a shrub that is indigenous to Europe as well as North America and is also found growing in the northern regions of Africa and Asia. The US National Formulary documented crampbark as late as in the 1960s in the form of a tranquilizer for conditions related to the nervous system as well as in the form of an antispasmodic in treating asthma. As the name ‘crampbark' suggests, the therapeutic use of this herb is primarily related to easing cramps as well as other conditions, for instance, painful menstruation due to excessive tightening of the muscles as well as colic.
Crampbark is a shrub that sheds its leaves annually (deciduous) and usually grows up to a height of 4 meters to 5 meters. The leaves of this herb appear opposite to each other on the stalk and each leaf has three lobes that are about 5 cm to 10 cm in length and width having a smooth base and roughly indented margins. The leaves of crampbark have resemblance to those of some varieties of maples and can be told apart very easily by means of their rather creased surface having underlying network of veins on the leaf. The leaf buds of crampbark are green in color and have bud scales that meet without overlying (valvate).
This shrub bears white flowers possessing both the male as well as the female parts (hermaphrodite). The flowers are produced in a type of inflorescence called corymbs that are about 4 cm to 11 cm across at the apex of the stems. Every corymb includes an outer circle of sterile flowers that is about 1.5 cm to 2 cm across having very noticeable petals, which encircle a small center of fertile flowers. This center of small flowers is about 5 mm in diameter. Crampbark blossoms during the beginning of the summer and is mainly insect-pollinated. The fruit of crampbark has the shape of a globe and is actually a vividly red drupe that measures about 7 mm to 10 mm across. The fruits of this shrub enclose a solitary seed, which is scattered by birds for propagation.
Bark from branches.
In North America a native tribe called the Meskwaki ingested preparations from crampbark to ease pains and cramps all over the body. On the other hand, the Penobscot, another indigenous tribe of North America, employed crampbark to cure distended glands as well as mumps.
Crampbark has a number of therapeutic uses, for instance, it is very useful in alleviating any type of excessive muscle stress, including the smooth intestinal muscles, the muscles of the uterus and airways as well as the striated muscle in the back or the limbs - the striated muscles are those that bind the muscles to the skeleton. In order to ease stressed muscles, you may use crampbark both internally and also apply it topically on the affected areas. In addition, crampbark is also useful in treating symptoms related to extreme muscle tension, painful menstruation owing to too much tightening of the uterus as well as to ease breathing problems in the case of asthma. To treat conditions, such as back pain and night cramps, generally crampbark is blended with lobelia. This herb also provides relief from other conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), constipation and colic.
Using crampbark in a number of instances of arthritis wherein the joint debility as well as pain have resulted in the contraction of the muscles till they nearly become firm may also significantly relieve the condition. When the muscles begin to unwind, there is an improvement in the blood circulation to the affected area, while waste products created by the different bodily processes, for instance, lactic acid, are eliminated from the body. As a result of this, the normal functioning of the body resumes.
As mentioned earlier, crampbark is also employed in the form of a tranquilizer for treating conditions related to the nervous system. Chemical analysis of crampbark has revealed that this herb possesses astringent, antispasmodic as well as sedative properties. In addition, this herb also encloses a coumarin called ‘scopoletin', which produces a sedative influence on the uterus. A tea prepared with crampbark is taken internally to ease every type of seizures, counting spasms following childbirth and susceptible miscarriage as well as menstrual cramps. In addition, this herb is also used in the treatment of weakness and nervous problems.
The bark of this shrub is generally collected during autumn prior to the color of the plant's leaves changing. Alternately, the bark is also harvested during the spring prior to the opening of the leaf buds and dehydrated for use when necessary later. The leaves as well as the fruits of crampbark possess emetic, purgative and anti-scorbutic attributes. The freshly harvested bark of crampbark is also used to prepare a homeopathic remedy, which is employed to treat menstrual pain as well as spasms following childbirth.
The bark of this herb is also commonly utilized in treating high blood pressure (hypertension) as well as other conditions that are related to the circulatory system.
Habitat and cultivation
Crampbark is found growing on its own in forest lands, thickets and hedges in the eastern regions of North America as well as Europe, where this shrub has its origin. This shrub is generally propagated by means of its seeds, which are ideally sown during autumn. The bark of the shrub's branches is harvested during spring and summer, especially during the period between April and May, when the plants are in full bloom.
Crampbark can be grown without any difficulty and this plant thrives well in most soils. However, crampbark is unable to get used to inferior quality soils as well as parched conditions. Crampbark has a preference for a deep, fertile, damp clay soil and a sunlit position. Although this herb thrives in partial shades, it neither grows well nor bears fruits when grown in such positions. Heavy loamy soils as well as chalk are ideal for the most excellent growth of crampbark, but it does not grow well when cultivated on soils that are extremely acidic. The plants grow excellently provided they are given some shelter from the early morning sun during the spring. Crampbark is an extremely ornamental shrub and is frequently cultivated in flower gardens to enhance their beauty. It may be noted that crampbark is able to endure temperatures as low as -30ºC. When it is trimmed down to the level of the ground crampbark possesses the aptitude to rejuvenate very rapidly and develops into thickets in no time by means of their suckers. It is worth mentioning here that this shrub is also a substitute host for the aphid that infests the broad beans and sucks out their sap.
As aforementioned, crampbark is propagated by means of its seeds, which are ideally sown in a cold frame immediately when they mature during autumn. Crampbark seeds germinate rather sluggishly, at times it even takes over 18 months for the seeds to sprout. Provided the seeds have been collected ‘green' - completely developed, but just to ripen, and sown soon after, they ought to germinate some time during the spring. However, if you are using stored seeds, they would need to be warmed for about two months and subsequently cold stratification for another three months. Even after these five months, stored crampbark seeds may need another 18 months from the day of sowing to sprout. When the seedlings have grown sufficiently large to be handled, they need to be pricked out individually and planted in separate containers and grown in either a green house or a cold frame. The young crampbark plants can be transplanted into their permanent positions outdoors during the end of spring or beginning of summer in the next year.
Alternately, crampbark may also be grown from cuttings of soft-wood of the plant in a frame during the beginning of summer. When these wood cuttings start developing roots, plant them in separate pots and the young plants propagated by this method may be planted in their permanent positions outdoors during the end of spring or early part of summer in the subsequent year. In order to propagate crampbark by means of its soft-root cuttings, ideally cut semi-mature wood in pieces each having a length of 5 cm to 8 cm and preferably having a heel. Make the cuttings in July or August and plant them in a frame immediately. As soon as these wood cutting begin to root, plant them in separate pots. It may be noted here that it is very difficult to sustain these wood cuttings over winter and, therefore, it is ideal to grow them either in a cold frame or in a greenhouse till the subsequent spring prior to planting them outdoors.
In case you are using mature wood of the herb, the cuttings should ideally be done during winter and planted in a frame. Generally, these mature wood-cuttings of crampbark should develop roots during the beginning of the spring. When the young plants have grown sufficiently large to be handled, plant them in their permanent positions outdoors directly during the summer. Provided the growth of the plants from the mature wood-cuttings is not adequate, it is advisable to continue growing them in pots in a cold frame throughout the subsequent winter and plant them outdoors during the spring next year.
The therapeutic as well as other properties of crampbark have not been researched sufficiently and, hence, scientists are yet to ascertain the active constituents of this herb. In addition, there seems to be several uncertainties regarding the active constituents of crampbark. In effect, many of the active constituents of crampbark are similar to those contained by another closely related plant called black haw.
The standard dosages of different formulations of crampbark for treating different conditions differ. A decoction prepared from crampbark is generally taken when one is enduring a spasm and not continuously. Take the decoction in dosage of 100 ml or 4 fl ounces for a maximum six times every day to ease spasms caused by painful menstrual periods or other reasons.
Alternately, one may also use a tincture prepared from the bark of the crampbark shrub to ease spasms. This tincture ought to be taken internally in dosage of 2.5 ml (50 drops) for a maximum six times daily. For external use of the tincture to ease muscle spasms, make a proper blend of 2 ml (about 40 drops) of crampbark tincture and 30 grams (about 1.5 ounce) of any cream, such as comfrey, and apply it on the affected parts. In addition, if possible, you may also include 2 ml (40 drops) of tincture prepared from lobelia to this blend, as it will enhance the anti-spasmodic actions of the mixture. For best results, this blend should be applied thrice daily to the affected areas.
Side effects and cautions
People who are using crampbark for therapeutic reasons or intend to use the herb ought to be aware of the possible side effects of this herb and exercise necessary precautions. Consuming large amounts of the crampbark fruits may result in diarrhea and vomiting. Although the crampbark is not toxic, or even if it is, the toxicity level is very poor, it may result in mild stomach disorders when consumed in large amounts.
How it works in the body
The herb crampbark works to unwind the muscles, especially the soft muscles. As discussed earlier, whereas the opulus species of crampbark is believed to work on the body in general, the prunifolium species works especially to unwind or loosen up the uterine muscles. Therefore, the primary function of crampbark is involved with the reproductive system of women, for instance, providing respite from the spasms that happen during menstrual periods. In addition, this herb has been traditionally used to treat threatening miscarriage. However, when you are using crampbark especially to treat threatening miscarriage, always ensure that the medicine is being administered under the direct care of a competent and qualified physician or healthcare provider.
In addition to the functions of crampbark in the body that have been mentioned above, this herb has several other uses in various different systems of our body. For instance, crampbark is used to ease the symptoms of various conditions related to spasms in the stomach, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It is also used to treat conditions related to the respiratory system, such as loosening up the airways in the instance of asthma and, also employed for treating the musculoskeletal system to provide respite from tension/ stress in the case of pain caused by arthritis. Crampbark is also used in conjunction with various other herbs for treating problems related to the cardiovascular system as well as to lower high blood pressure (hypertension).
Collection and harvesting
The bark of crampbark shrub, which possesses most of the plant's therapeutic properties, is usually harvested during the period between April and May. Subsequent to the harvesting, the bark is sliced into smaller parts, dried and stored for later use.
While crampbark may be used internally as well as externally on its own, often it is also combined with other herbs to treat specific conditions. For instance, the bark is combined with wild yam and prickly ash to ease cramps. In order to ease ovarian and uterine pain or even susceptible miscarriage, crampbark may well be used in combination with valerian and black haw.