Viburnum opulus or Cramp Bark is the first herb that I gather each year. As its name suggests it is the bark which is used and this is easiest to strip from the stems in early spring time, just when the buds are about to burst. This is also when its active ingredients are at their highest levels.
Viburnum opulus grows in hedgerows on chalky soils, and you need to know where to look for it as in the early spring its stems look very similar to other hedgerow species. Over the years I have located various populations from which I gather small quantities, always leaving plenty to flourish for future years. Sadly the use of the hedge flail is making it more and more difficult to find harvestable stems, but somehow I manage to find areas which have been spared if I look hard enough.
Once I have cut the stems I strip the bark off and then load it into the dehydrator. Processing has to be done immediately after picking to ensure that none of the active ingredients are lost, so for this reason I gather little and often.
Viburnum opulus is a very effective antispasmodic, relaxing smooth muscle in the body. It is useful in prescriptions for easing dysmenorrhea and can even be used to avert a threatened miscarriage. Since it is also astringent it is helpful in cases of heavy bleeding, such as that which can be associated with menopause.
I use Viburnum opulus a lot in my practice. I prefer to work with its relaxing qualities in general, rather than label it as ‘the herb to use for period pains’. It is very useful to help relax the arterioles and reduce hypertension where it is due to stress and where there is a tendency to ‘hold on’ to problems. It is amazing to see patients begin to take on a less rigid attitude to life when they are taking Viburnum opulus.
The active ingredients include a bitter called viburnin, valerianic acid (which is also in Valerian), salicosides, resin and tannin. As soon as you start scraping the bark off the stems you can smell the characteristic valerianic acid and it reminds you of Valerian (although it is not so pungent.)
I love this herb, not only for its wonderful therapeutic properties but also for its beauty in the hedgerow, its clouds of white flowers in spring, the way its leaves have a unique elongated maple-like shape and its gorgeous red berries in the autumn. Last but not least I love the way that this herb represents the beginning of a new year of herb gathering, a time to replenish my dispensary and to continue the seasonal cycle.
To find out more about Myrobalan Clinic please visit www.myrobalanclinic.com