Menstruation Cramps: Benefits of Cramp Bark and Black Haw

Menstruation Cramps: Benefits of Cramp Bark and Black Haw

Cramp bark (Viburnum opulus)

Hands down Cramp bark and Black haw are a favorite of mine. If you were ever wondering what herb to have in your house for pain, it may be either one of these sister herbs. Cramp bark (Viburnum opulus) and Black haw (Viburnum prunifolium) are in the same genus and may be used interchangeably. If you have ever experienced painful menstrual cramps or cramping of the uterus due to threatened miscarriage, miscarriage, or after birth pains, you know that only one thing crosses your mind- please make the pain stop! This is where these herbs shine. Just check out the superhero-like actions of these plants…

Muscle Relaxant

Cramp bark and Black haw are considered among the most important uterine antispasmodics. What does this mean? These herbs have the ability to relax smooth muscle, for example: intestines, uterus, airway. They also are relaxing for striated muscle as well, these are muscles attached to the skeleton, like the ones in your limbs.

Painful menstruation is known as Dysmenorrhea which literally means “difficult menstruation”. Each month when the uterine lining sheds as menstruation, the uterus must contract. In women with dysmenorrhea the contractions are very painful. The uterus may even spasm. Pain can be localized to the lower abdomen, but it can also be in the lower back, in the vulva, as well as radiating down the thighs. Cramp bark and Black Haw are extremely effective at reducing uterine contractions, and uterine muscle spasm.

It is safe to use for several days prior to onset of menses in anticipation and prevention of painful cramps. I can attest to this plants wonderful pain relieving action. I personally feel this herb is one of the best herbs to have on hand at all times for any sort of menstrual pain, I prefer it over NSAID’s. There is also no risk of liver damage from this herb like there are with NSAID use.

Another beneficial use may be for threatened miscarriage. It has been used for hundreds of years to help prevent miscarriage. If there is uterine cramping without cervical dilation, cramp bark has been traditionally used to help stop uterine spasm and contractions in early pregnancy. Both Cramp bark and Black haw are traditionally combined with other herbs such as Partridgeberry, Vitex and Wild yam for threatened miscarriage. You would not want to use vitex and wild yam in pregnancy without being under the supervised care of a skilled practitioner trained in the use of herbal medicine.

If you are going in for a gynecological exam, one of these sister herbs may be able to help you relax, aiding in muscle and nervous system relaxation, while also mildly sedating to help the exam go smoothly, without as much anxiety or tensing up. Will also help to manage any pain that may occur from the exam.

These herbs have a uterotonic action, allowing the muscles to relax, yet work efficiently. This action also makes it a considerable choice for women with absent periods.

Poor Circulation

Muscles that are relaxed work more efficiently, allowing for increased circulation, which improves not only blood flow, but removal of waste products in that area of the body. Cramp bark and Black haw have been shown to have a specific action on the uterus, the relaxing action increases circulation to the uterus, allowing for toxin removal which may aid the uterus in healing and overall improvement in uterine health.

Mild Sedative

Need to relax, well these herbs may help, especially where there is pain present. Both have have a mild sedative action, aiding the body in reducing anxiety, nervous tension, and irritability, while promoting a sense of calm and well being.

Nervine

Excellent aid for nervous tension. As I mentioned above, if you are are going in for an exam and you are feeling tense about the situation, one of these may be able to help you relax through the session, leaving better off than when you went in.

All of these combined actions have made Cramp bark and Black haw useful for the following conditions…

  • Premenstrual migraine
  • PMS
  • Dysmennorhea
  • Pain associated with ovarian cysts, uterine fibroids, endometriosis
  • As part of a heavy menstrual bleeding management plan
  • Threatened miscarriage
  • Miscarriage
  • Incontinence, uterine prolapse due to weak pelvic floor muscles
  • After birth pains, safe for use when breastfeeding
  • Postpartum hemorrhage

Viburnum opulus

What is the difference between the two herbs?

Cramp bark (Viburnum opulus) has many other common names: Guelder Rose, Water Elder, European Cranberrybush, & Snowball Tree. It is native to Europe and Asia. The part of the plant used is the bark.

Black haw (Viburnum prunifolium) is native to North America, from Connecticut to eastern Kansas, and then south to Alabama and Texas. Common names include stag bush, sweet viburnum. Plant part used is the root bark of this plant.

Viburnum prunifolium

If you love herbs and live in the United States, Black Haw is our native species. Black haw and Cramp bark have been shown safe to combine.

These plant have only slight variations in their chemical make-up and those are considered so slight by herbalists that they are used interchangeably.

Traditional Suggested Usage

These herbs are best used for acute situations and pain management, not for continued use unless specified by a qualified practitioner.

Painful menstruation maintenance
Tincture: 3-10 mL a day or 1/2 tsp a day in a little water 2 times a day

Decoction: 1 tsp dried root bark to 1 cup water in a stainless steel or Pyrex pan, bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to lowest simmer point, simmer 10 minutes. Strain. 1/2 cup 3 times a day or every 3 hours as needed.

Decoctions take more time because you have to prepare them, but they can be just as effective. A decoction is a liquid preparation where you boil plant parts in water. Decoctions are best for root or bark plant parts.

Threatened miscarriage
Please see our recurrent miscarriages page for complete formula and suggestions for use.

References:
1. Aviva Romm M.D. (2010), Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health, Churchill Livingstone,
2. Andrew Chevallier (1997) The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants, DK Publishing
3. Richard Mabey (1988) The New Age Herbalist, Gaia Books Ltd.
4. Susun S. Weed (2011) Down There Sexual and Reproductive Health The Wise Woman Way, Ash Tree Publishing
5. wikipedia.org/wiki/Viburnum_prunifolium
6. wikipedia.org/wiki/Viburnum_opulus

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[-] 18 Comments
  1. How should I take Cramp Bark and/or Black Haw to prevent early miscarriage (during implantation). Should I take it regularly before conception (3 months prior) or only right after ovulation up until implantation and a few weeks after? Thanks!

    • Hi Diane,

      It is best to begin at least 3 months prior to trying to conceive and then all through ttc and into early pregnancy (through first trimester), under the supervision of a skilled and your doctor or midwife. I think these two herbs work better in combination with other herbs to help support implantation and support early pregnancy. We actually sell a great product called UteriCalm that is specifically designed to help support early pregnancy and it contains these two herbs. Click here to learn more about UteriCalm…

  2. How would you prepare either cramp bark or black haw if you wanted to take in a (homemade) capsule? Can you combine these two herbs to make a capsule or should you stick to one herb?
    Thank you!!!

    • Dear Julia D,

      Cramp Bark and Black Haw are wonderful combined. A great resource for making your own herbal capsules is James Green. He had a book titled The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook: A Home Manual that may be helpful. We have combined Cramp Bark and Black Haw with Oat flowers and Partridge Berry in a liquid herbal blend a liquid herbal blend designed to help calm and relax the uterus called UteriCalm. I feel it’s awesome! It’s available from the Natural Fertility Shop.

  3. I noticed in your article on Black Cohosh that there are long-term use warnings for that. Are there long-term use warnings also for Cramp Bark and Black Haw? I have suffered from painful periods for many years (primary dysmenorrhea), and I’ve tried several ways to alleviate them (essential oils, mineral oil spray, molasses protocol, evening primrose, Lunette cup, probiotics, ibuprofen, birth control). Not much works for me. I just experienced yet another night of labor-like pains from cramps, and I’m so frustrated with my body, but still determined to find a natural solution. I am interested in trying these herb supplements. Thank you for sharing your wisdom!

    • Dear Beth,

      According to the Botanical Safety Handbook, Cramp bark (Viburnum opulus) and Black Haw (Viburnum prunifolium L.) are both Class 1A herbs with no known adverse events of side effects. It is suggested however that Black Haw be used with caution if dealing with kidney stones.

      The Fertilica line of products has a wonderful herbal combination supplement that contains both Cramp bark and Black Haw called UteriCalm. I feel it has been a gift to have on hand!

  4. I’m 21 and I’ve been suffering from horrendous menstrual cramps on the first day of my cycle for years. The only medicines that are effective on me are strong NSAIDs added with a painkiller, no natural treatment had ever calmed my heavy cramps. This time, I decided to give black haw a try. When I woke up with the pain, I immediately prepared the decoction. The cramps were starting to become really sharp when I drunk half a cup of the tea. Ten minutes later, the pain was vanishing. I was amazed. I had to drink 2 cups in the whole day, and I just experienced very slight cramps, not disturbing at all. This is fantastic, I can’t belive I will never take Ibuprofen again! Thank you!

  5. I know you can smoke Cramp Bark. Does it have the same healing effect when smoked?

    • Dear Kemal,

      While smoking cramp bark may be relaxing and it often is added to the herbal mixture called kinnikkinnik, the medicinal benefits of a smoke often differ from a liquid extract or supplement. We suggest taking it internally for a stronger action and the benefits it offers.

  6. Hi, thanks for the post. Can cramp bark, black haw and wild yam be used externally in say a bath? Thanks again.

  7. Hi, Can UteriCalm be used during the first trimester of pregnancy and be safe for the baby?

  8. Will it cause drowsiness?

    • Elizabeth Willett, MA, CH

      Dear Toni,

      While Black Haw and Cramp Bark have mild sedative affects, that may be interpreted as drowsiness. When taken as directed, it is rare to experience drowsiness from our experience.

  9. Hi, can pregnancy prep be used with any of your miscarriage stuff like patridge berry, wild yam, cramp bark, etc