Crampbark is native to eastern North America and Europe. The deciduous shrub has lobed leaves, white flowers and red oval berries. It prefers to grow in woodlands and thickets on moist and moderately alkaline soil. Bark from the branches can be gathered in spring and summer when the plant is flowering.

Other common names for V. opulus include guelder rose, water elder, European cranberry and snowball tree. V. opulus is often used interchangeably with black haw, or Viburnum prunifolium, its North American relative.

The North American Meskwaki people used crampbark to ease cramps and discomforts throughout the body. The Penobscot people used the herb to promote lymph gland health. V. opulus was listed in the United States Pharmacopeia from 1894 – 1916, and in the National Formulary from 1916 – 1960 as a sedative and antispasmodic.

It has a long history of folklore in Ukraine and Russia. V. opulus references are found in Ukranian poems, songs, art and embroidery. Its symbolism in Ukrainian culture can be traced to Slavic Paganism, dating back 1,000 years. The berries symbolize one’s native land, blood and family roots.  The V. opulus berries are also considered a Russian national symbol. The red color of the berries represents beauty and the bitter taste of the berries represents the separation of loved ones in Russian folklore.

As the common name crampbark suggests, this herb has a reputation for its ability to ease discomforts associated with menstruation, as well as during pregnancy and labor. Taken internally as a tea or tincture, crampbark is considered by herbalists, midwives and naturopathic physicians to be extremely effective at toning the muscles of the uterus and easing spasms. Eclectic physicians of the 1800s used crampbark extensively for irregular menses and to facilitate quick and uncomplicated childbirth.  Today, you can often find crampbark in formulas for women’s health, such as the WishGarden formulas AfterEase, Cramp Release and Monthly Rescue.

While crampbark may be most recognized for its effectiveness in women’s health, its usefulness extends to the entire body. This incredible herb tends to create balance where needed, either toning lax tissues or relaxing tense muscles, depending on what a specific area of the body needs most. Because of its effectiveness at soothing tension in smooth muscle (intestines, heart, lungs and uterus) and striated muscle (attached to the skeleton), crampbark has proven useful in many situations, easing digestive complaints, promoting respiratory and heart health, and urinary tract health.

An oil (such as olive or jojoba oil) infused with the bark can be added to a lotion for topical use with muscle discomfort. WishGarden has an effective formula called Muscular-Skeletal that contains crampbark and other herbs to support tired muscles and joints.

Another way to use crampbark topically is to prepare a fomentation. Here’s how to make a fomentation:

  • Simmer ¼ cup of bark in 2 cups of water in a covered pan for 20 minutes.
  • Strain the bark and allow to cool slightly.
  • Soak a cloth in the tea and apply to the affected area for at least 20 minutes.
  • Place a warm towel or heating pad over the cloth to keep it warm longer.

Learning Herbs
Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine by Andrew Chevalier
Herbal Medicine for Women’s Health by Dr. Aviva Romm
Herbal Medicine from the Heart of the Earth by Dr. Sharol Marie Tilgner

Writer Amy Malek, CCN, CCH, INHC is a Certified Clinical Nutritionist, Certified Clinical Herbalist, Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and Flower Essence Practitioner. She discovered her love for plants in the Sonoran Desert while living in Tucson, AZ. She has been studying plants of the Mountain West and Southwest for 10 years. Her many teachers include Paul Bergner, Rosemary Gladstar, Dr. Aviva Romm, Lisa Ganora, Kat MacKinnon, Erin Smith, John Slattery and Charles Kane. Her career is divided between Holistic Health, Graphic/Web Design and Marketing/Social Media Consulting. She is currently WishGarden’s Social Media Coordinator. She lives in Boulder County, CO. She enjoys wildcrafting and growing her own medicinal plants and making a variety of herbal remedies. You can learn more about her practice on her website,

For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, or sell any product.