As its name implies, recipes involving cramp bark have been used for eons by midwives, Native Americans, and others to alleviate menstrual cramps, dysmenorrhea, and PMS. This herb (Viburnum opulus), which grows abundantly throughout Europe and the eastern United States, contains several compounds that act as natural anti-spasmodics and relaxants, including valerianic acid and coumarin scopoletin. This botanical remedy can be effective for melting muscle spasms and pain, as well as the tension headaches that arise from time to time.
Along these same lines, many patients who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other intestinal spasms rely on cramp bark to ameliorate their symptoms, and some herbalists say that its active chemicals can help lower blood pressure and reduce pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis.
You can take cramp bark tablets (experts recommend three 200 mg. tablets thrice daily), or, better yet, prepare your own teas and tinctures showcasing this potent muscle relaxant. For optimal results, turn to these cramp bark recipes as soon as you detect muscle spasms or tension-related symptoms.
You’ll be using dried bark peeled from the roots of the shrub to make your brew. This preparation is technically referred to as a "decoction:" similar to a tea, but with the herbs or botanicals boiled as part of the process.
To prepare your herbal brew, bring 1 cup of water to a rolling boil, then measure and add 2 tsp. of dried cramp bark. Allow this concoction to simmer for about 15 minutes, then strain and drink it. It’s as simple as that! Naturopaths recommend downing 4 oz. of this tea every three to four hours to alleviate menstrual cramps and associated pain.
You can also brew up a decoction with 2 parts cramp bark to 1 part pennyroyal leaf, augmenting with 1/2 part fresh ginger root. Allot 4 to 6 Tbsp. of this herbal mix for every 1 quart of cool water. Simmer on low heat for 2 to 5 minutes, then remove from heat. Ingest about 1/4 cup every 15 minutes until your symptoms disappear.
As you experiment, you may find that a cramp bark tincture, made by soaking the botanicals in alcohol, packs a greater health wallop than teas or decoctions. To make your own, place 1 cup of the bark in a Mason jar, then cover with vodka and seal. Let this marinate for two months, then strain the mixture, augmenting with a little cinnamon for flavor. Take 30 to 60 drops of this tincture mixed into water or juice two to three times daily as needed.
For acute dysmenorrhea (that is, painful menstruation), cramp bark seems to work optimally when ingested frequently. Begin with 1/2 dropper of the tincture every 30 minutes until the cramping and inflammation subsides, then dose again every 1 to 3 hours.
Although cramp bark is considered harmless in the advised doses, people sensitive to aspirin should proceed with caution. Moreover, it’s crucial that pregnant or nursing women, in particular, consult with their doctor or naturopath before taking this or any other herbs or botanicals.
Finally, note that the red berries of the cramp bark shrub are poisonous and should never be ingested.