A cramp is a condition that may affect many parts of the body and have various causes. As I stated earlier, although we can use herbs on a short-term, first-aid, bases, it is always vital that where there is a deeper underlying cause, this be treated also. In acute conditions, Natural First-Aid can facilitate a rapid recovery. However, where the symptoms are recurring, its purpose is only to bring relief while the deeper problem is investigated and resolved.
I am using this widely reaching symptom of cramps to illustrate the relief that Cramp Bark (Viburnum opulus) can bring when cramping manifests in cases of diarrhoea and dysmenorrhoea (painful menstruation). These are two conditions that are commonly experienced in the the average household.
If you are going to harvest your own bark it is important that you identify the correct bush. Wild Viburnum opulus (also known by the common name of Guelder Rose) is a native to Britain, and can be seen from time to time growing in open countryside or in hedgerows.
The first three pictures depict Viburnum opulus. With respect to identification it is important that you pay particular attention to its unique flower, which sports an outer ring of large flowers and an inner cluster of smaller flowers. Also note the forked shape of the leaves (Maple-like). These two observations will help you to distinguish Viburnum opulus from other Viburnum. By no means use the bush based on the red berries alone. Red berries are common (often poisonous) and can look similar, so be certain before you commit to harvesting and using. As a general rule I seek a minimum of two forms of verification before I am satisfied that the plant is the correct one. This does not always have to be structural, it can also include taste or smell...sometimes even sound.
The last picture of the four (lowest on the page) is Viburnum opulus "roseum" (also referred to as Guelder Rose Snowball), which has been cultivated. This is also commonly seen in gardens, as is a similar variety with basil shaped leaves. However, it is the wild variety, shown in the upper three pictures, that we wish to employ.
The bark should be harvested from three year old branches in late autumn or late winter. Stripped from the twigs it should be cut up into half inch segments and dried. Then stored in an air-tight glass container away from direct sunlight. Barks, seeds and roots have a longer shelf-life than do aerial parts. As a rule you can keep them up to a couple of years if in a whole state (not ground) and stored properly, but they should be reviewed regularly...especially when the new season for harvesting is upon you. Taking the bark from smaller branches also allows a regular harvest from your source without threatening the survival of the main bush.
When I started this new series I pointed out that when intervening with Natural First Aid, it is important that we follow the natural law of supporting the body in its efforts.
In the case of acute diarrhoea, the body is expressing a desire to rid itself of something. One of the most common causes of diarrhoea is food poisoning, in the form of bacterial invaders into the digestive system. The diarrhoea that develops is part of the body's strategy to expell the invader. Unless the diarrhoea goes on well over 24 hours (most cases I have experienced have tended to be through the night) then the body should be left to take its own course. Attention should be given to taking in fluids to replace those that are being lost.
One of the more unpleasant symptoms of food poisoning is the severe cramping that comes with it.
A number of years ago, I went to visit some friends for the evening. As it got later they decided to put some food out. Among other things there was a selection of meats and smoked bacon. I ate....drank some beer....and eventually went home.
That night I suffered the worst bout of diarrhoea in my life....but the worst thing about it was the cramping, which was almost unbearable.
In this instance I had tincture of Viburnum opulus at hand. It was at a 1:5 strength of bark to 70% alcohol. The dose is 5-10mls...three times a day. However, as this was an acute case, I reduced the dosage but took it every couple of hours...Within a short time it eased the cramping, which made the whole process that much easier.
If the tincture is not at hand, I would need to make myself up a decoction. This would consist of 1-2 teaspoons of bark per cup, simmered gently for 15 minutes (with lid partially on). This would be taken in half cup doses every couple of hours up to a maximum of three cups. My personal experience is that diarrhoea usually sets in for the night so I would make up a larger batch and then just take what I need from it every couple of hours...rather than go through the whole process repeatedly, especially later in the night when the experience has taken it toll and I am feeling exhausted.
In this case I would also take some of the Echinacea tincture mentioned in the first posting of this series. The dosage for Echinacea tincture is 1-2mls of a 1:5 strength @ 45% alcohol, but numerous herbalists have commented that if you really want results you need to up this dose. However, best to stay within the guidelines until the individual reaction is better known. So, 1ml every couple of hours up to six doses would do the trick.
This is an example of how the herbs in our Natural First Aid kit are proving to be very versatile.
Again, Yarrow could also be included into this mixture as it is anti-spasmodic and thus indicated in diarrhoea and stomach cramps. In this instance you would first make your decoction of Viburnum (as it is a harder bark) and then pour that onto your Yarrow ( a softer aerial portion of the plant) to make an infusion (tea) at 1 teaspoon per cup. You can still take the half cup every two hours.
The other consideration for Viburnum, I wish to present in this post, is its use in dysmenorrhoea (painful menstruation). This is quite common, especially amongst younger women. If dysmenorrhoea is something experienced regularly, the condition needs deeper consideration. Often, complications of the menstruation are relieved with the onset of bleeding, which usually indicates the direction further enquireres should follow. This is often an indication of a toxic state that needs addressing. However, in the meantime, Viburnum opulus can again be applied to ease the pain of cramping.
Furthermore, where the cramping precedes the onset of bleeding, Yarrow can once again be employed in the mixture for it effect on opening up the capillaries. It will promote the onset of bleeding, which in many cases will relieve the pain. As an adjunct to this treatment, a small amount of candied Ginger can be chewed. Ginger is warming and has an affinity with the womb, promoting the flow of blood in this area.
In this post we have been able to introduce a successful remedy for cramps experienced in diarrhoea and menstruation, combining it with other herbs already stocked in our Natural First Aid kit, allowing for the maximum potential and versatility from just a few herbs. I hope you find this useful and would be pleased to hear from anyone who has employed these herbs successfully as a result of this series.
Health and Happiness
The Green Man