Cramp bark (Viburnum opulus), also known as guelder rose, highbush cranberry, and snowball tree, is a flowering shrub native to Europe and parts of Africa and Asia. It is also grown in North America and many other parts of the world. The bark of this plant is used medicinally and has a long traditional use for relieving cramps (hence the name “cramp bark”), including muscle cramps, abdominal cramps, and period cramps. Native Americans also smoked cramp bark as a substitute for tobacco.
What Is Cramp Bark Used For?
Cramp bark has been used in traditional herbal medicine for many years. It is commonly used to relieve pain from cramps and recent research indicates that it may also be able to help prevent the formation of kidney stones. Cramp bark is also used to alleviate symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), fight bacterial infections, as well as to treat insomnia and anxiety.
What are the Health Benefits of Cramp Bark?
Cramp bark has numerous medicinal uses and potential benefits. It is most commonly used for its ability to reduce painful cramps, as well as to kill off pathogenic bacteria, but cramp bark has many other benefits as well.
Cramp Bark May Help Relieve Pain from Cramping
One of the most well-known uses for cramp bark is for relieving pain from cramps—particularly menstrual cramps. Research studies have analyzed the chemical profiles of cramp bark and found certain compounds present in it that may help suppress muscle spasms and reduce muscle tension. In particular, the compound scopoletin has antispasmodic properties that relax smooth muscle tissue.
Research from in vitro studies reveals that cramp bark can actually block the spasms of smooth muscle. Traditionally, cramp bark is prepared by placing 2 teaspoons of dried bark into a cup of water, bringing it to a boil and then simmering it for 10 to 15 minutes. This tea can be consumed three times per day for cramps. Another option is four to eight milliliters of tincture three times per day.
Cramp Bark Can Help Fight Pathogenic Bacteria
In vitro studies show that cramp bark contains antibacterial and antimicrobial activity and may be able to help kill pathogenic bacteria. This ability, coupled with its pain-relieving properties, make it a great herb for use during bacterial infections, food poisoning, or other uncomfortable food-borne illnesses.
Cramp Bark is Used as A Muscle Relaxant
Cramp bark has a long history of use as a natural muscle relaxant. It helps relieve menstrual cramping due to its ability to stop smooth muscle spasms. It can also help relieve muscle spasms and aches throughout the body, such as in the back or legs. For this reason, people struggling with muscle spasms, aches or pain, often use this herbal remedy as a safer alternative to NSAIDs, which have been shown to have numerous dangerous side effects.
Cramp Bark May Benefit Stomach Ulcers
Cramp bark may also be able to treat stomach ulcers. Cramp bark is rich in antioxidants Vitamins C and E, carotenoids, chlorophylls, polyphenols, and proanthocyanidins that may be beneficial to the gastrointestinal tract lining and help prevent ulcers. A 2006 study on rats published in the Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology also determined that antioxidants found in cramp bark fruit may help protect against the gastrointestinal damage associated with ulcer development. According to the study authors, cramp bark appears to activate mucosal defense mechanisms to help prevent damage in the stomach and intestines.
Cramp Bark May Benefit Kidney Stones
A low level of citrate in the urine, known as hypocitraturia, is a known risk factor for the development of kidney stones. A 2014 study evaluated cramp bark’s potential for treating mild-to-moderate degree hypocitraturic stone patients and found it has similar citrate, potassium, and calcium levels as lemon juice—an alternative treatment for the condition. While more research is needed, the authors of this study concluded that cramp bark could be used as an alternative to pharmaceutical treatment of hypocitraturia.
Research on cramp bark suggests that it may also be useful in helping to pass kidney stones due to its antispasmodic effect on the smooth muscle of the kidneys. One 2019 study found cramp bark effective for facilitating the passage of kidney stones smaller than 10 millimeters (mm) and recommended its use as an alternative herbal treatment in combination with diclofenac sodium.
Cramp Bark is Used for Lowering Inflammation
Cramp bark may also be able to help reduce levels of inflammation in the body. Inflammation is an important healing function of the body that helps your body fight foreign invaders and also has a role in repairing damage. Although acute, short-term inflammation is beneficial, it can become a major problem when it becomes chronic and inappropriately attacks your body's own tissues.
Chronic inflammation can be caused by a number of factors—exposure to toxins, pollutants, and chemicals in the air or in food, untreated illness or infection, consuming high amounts of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, consuming a lot of refined carbs, such as white bread, eating processed and packaged foods that contain trans fats, excessive intake of alcohol and processed meat, leading a sedentary or non-active lifestyle, and many others. There are also some cases of chronic inflammation that don’t have a clear underlying cause. When prolonged, chronic inflammation can negative impact on your tissues and organs.
In fact, scientists now believe that chronic, low-level inflammation plays a major role in almost every chronic, Western disease. Therefore, anything that can help fight chronic inflammation is of potential importance in preventing and even treating these diseases. Cramp bark contains some anti-inflammatory compounds that can help to reduce overall inflammation in the body.
Cramp Bark is High in Antioxidants
Cramp bark is high in antioxidants, especially flavonoids and carotenoids — two antioxidants that can help prevent and reverse cellular damage in your body. They may also help reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, as these antioxidants have been found to have antidiabetic effects in animal and test-tube studies.
Antioxidants are molecules that fight free radicals in your body. Free radicals are oxygen-containing molecules with an uneven number of electrons. The uneven number allows them to easily react with other molecules. These reactions are called oxidation and can either be beneficial or harmful. Oxidation is a normal and necessary process that takes place in your body. However, oxidative stress occurs when there’s an imbalance between free radical activity and antioxidant activity. This can result in damaged cells and ultimately ill health.
Antioxidants can donate an electron to a free radical without making themselves unstable. This causes the free radical to stabilize and become less reactive. As oxidation is a process that is constantly occurring due to numerous chemical reactions in the body, antioxidants must also regularly work to keep free radicals in balance. When there is an imbalance between free radical activity and antioxidant activity it leads to oxidative stress.
Since cramp bark is high in antioxidants, it can offer the many benefits of reducing oxidative stress in the body. Oxidative stress also leads to inflammation, and so, the antioxidants in cramp bark also play a role in its anti-inflammatory properties. Among the antioxidants found in cramp bark, the proanthocyanidins are exceptionally powerful for fighting free radicals and preventing damage from oxidative stress.
What are the Active Compounds in Cramp Bark?
The medicinal properties of plants are attributed to the bioactive compounds found within them. It is believed that one of the primary compounds in cramp bark is the coumarin scopoletin. Additional primary active constituents in cramp bark include: Hydroquinones (arbutin, methylarbutin), Coumarins, Carotenoids, Chlorophylls, Polyphenols, Tannins (mainly catechins), Proanthocyanidins (bark), Viopudial (bark), Polysaccharides (i.e. galacturonic acid, galactose, arabinose, mannose and rhamnose).
Is Cramp Bark Safe?
Cramp bark has been used safely and effectively as an herbal remedy for centuries. No side effects or adverse events related to cramp bark supplements have been reported. However, if you are pregnant or nursing, you should consult your healthcare provider before using cramp bark. Also, be aware that raw cramp bark berries, although edible, are considered mildly toxic and may cause digestive upset if consumed in large amounts.
Cramp bark (Viburnum opulus) is a flowering shrub native to Europe and parts of Africa and Asia. It is also grown in North America and many other parts of the world. The bark of this plant is used medicinally and has a long traditional use for relieving cramps, including muscle cramps, abdominal cramps, and period cramps. Native Americans also smoked cramp bark as a substitute for tobacco.
Cramp bark has numerous medicinal uses and potential benefits. It is most commonly used for its ability to reduce painful cramps, as well as to kill off pathogenic bacteria, but cramp bark has many other benefits as well. Cramp bark is used as a muscle relaxant, for treating ulcers, preventing kidney stones, preventing miscarriage, for lowering inflammation, and for fighting oxidative stress.
Cramp bark is also high in antioxidants, especially flavonoids and carotenoids — two antioxidants that can help prevent and reverse cellular damage in your body. They may also help reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, as these antioxidants have been found to have antidiabetic effects in animal and test-tube studies.
Cramp bark has been used safely and effectively as an herbal remedy for centuries. No side effects or adverse events related to cramp bark supplements have been reported. However, if you are pregnant or nursing, you should consult your healthcare provider before using cramp bark.