By Suzy Cohen
Last week I was tearing apart my kitchen cabinet looking for asafoetida spice, when my eye fell on a screw-top glass jar filled with little chunks of brown “cramp” bark. I confess my kitchen pantry resembles Aladdin’s cave of precious herbs and spices. Some of these I keep for medicinal reasons, and others are to season recipes. Most of time there is overlap because everything I cook is medicinally infused somehow.
So this is how I came to use cramp bark. It felt like synchronicity, because my husband Sam was complaining of stomach cramps that afternoon. And here I had just found a glass jar containing cramp bark in my cabinet. I threw a tablespoon of the little pieces of broken-up bark into a saucepan and added about 2 cups of water. Then I set it to simmer for 10 minutes, after which I presented Sam with a steaming cramp bark infusion, sweetened with honey. Call it cramp bark tea, although the recipe can change based upon desired potency.
Within 10 minutes
, it completely relieved his vexing stomach ache and we were both a little surprised. He fell asleep peacefully. (Note to self: Give him this stuff tomorrow night when he crawls in to bed at midnight replaying the presidential debate on his iPhone).
Herbalists know this herb can relax smooth muscles, like those of the intestines, bladder, and uterus, as well as striated muscle, such as skeletal muscle.
Cramp bark, known botanically as Viburnum opulus has vivid-colored berries which can be used to create red ink. Healers have used cramp bark for arthritic pain, backache, menstrual cramps, cramping due to irritable bowel syndrome, urinary pain, and muscle spasms (such as a cricked neck). Because of its calming effect on the nervous system, cramp bark is sometimes also used as a mild sedative for nervous tension.
One of the most popular uses for cramp bark is to provide relief from monthly menstrual pain. The discomfort ranges from blessedly mild, to requiring narcotics (hydrocodone) or non-steroidals (naproxen or ibuprofen) just to get through ‘that time of the month’. Cramp bark can ‘unwind’ uterine tension.
For those of you suffering from regular or chronic pain caused by spasms, back pain or monthly cramps, consider adding cramp bark to your herbal medicine cabinet. Ask a holistic doctor first. I’d avoid conventional prescribed painkillers for as long as you can, because they have highly undesirable side effects including heart disease, constipation, neuronal degeneration and/or addiction… plus the way I see it, you are just removing one problem and ushering in new ones.
I’ve archived a comprehensive version of this article at my website suzycohen.com, so sign up for my newsletter and I’ll email it. Cramp bark comes as an herbal tincture and capsule, as well as dried bark that you can steep with water to make tea.
If you are sensitive or allergic to aspirin, I’d recommend that you avoid cramp bark because of its salicin content. If you take blood thinners (Coumadin, Plavix and others), then cramp bark is not recommended.