While Black Haw has been used for centuries as an herbal medicine, most people are unaware of its uses and how it has played a part in American History. Black Haw is indigenous to North America and is most commonly found in the southern parts of Canada and the northeastern regions of the United States. A vital part of Native American medicine, the remedial preparations of Black Haw were eventually passed down to the colonial settlers and were in high demand in the 1800 and 1900's.
Black Haw refers to a species of viburnum. These shrubs or bushy trees are most commonly found on rocky hillsides as well as in thickets, woods and shorelines of streams. The Black Haw looks very similar to an elder tree and can grow as tall as thirty feet. Shiny green leaves, soft white flowers and drooping bunches or bluish-black berries are also signature features of Black Haw. Most of the herbal remedies associated with this tree are made from its reddish-brown bark, though there are documented uses of its berries for healing purposes as well.
One of the oldest known uses for Black Haw is uterine treatment. The bark of this tree was often incorporated into a tonic that promoted overall uterine health and assisted in regulating the physical symptoms of menstrual cramps and menopause. The Native Americans also believed Black Haw bark aided in the prevention of miscarriages and eased pain during and after labor. These traditional uses of Black Haw were passed on to the American colonists, and a 19th century collaboration of doctors called the Eclectic movement recorded Black Haw's uses in their text, "Kings American Dispensatory."
This same Eclectic movement also documented that the berries of Black Haw were believed to boost fertility. Southern slave owners were often known to try and force their females slaves to eat the Black Haw berries so their ability to conceive and bear children would increase. Once the slave owners learned of a pregnant slave, a drink that was infused with Black Haw was given daily to prevent miscarriages.
Just like the Native Americans and early settlers believed, Black Haw has been proven to have an influence on the reproductive organs in women. Black Haw can be used to increase tone and the energy of the uterus as well as improve overall functioning. The esculetin and scopoletin properties in Black Haw also help to relax the uterus and ease the painful symptoms of menstruation because they act as a uterine sedative and antispasmodic. While Black Haw was frequently used to reduce the risk of miscarriage, use of this herb during pregnancy is no longer recommended.
The sedative and antispasmodic properties of Black Haw go further than just the uterus. Black Haw bark can be used alleviate conditions such as hypertension, palpitations, nervous constipation, and hysteria with its calming influence. The antispasmodic elements are just as effective on skeletal muscle cramps and spasms as they are for menstrual cramping.