Viburnum edule – Cranberry, High Bush
Cranberry, High Bush – Viburnum edule, opulus, trilobum & spp.
Viburnum = vee-bur-num, for the Latin name of a species in this genus (the wayfaring tree);
edule = “of food, edible”;
opulus = an old generic name for the guelder rose;
Identification: These shrubs grow 1 – 4 m high and have white flowers. The flowers are found on compound cymes. The leaves are simple, usually lobed and toothed. The juicy fruit is one-seeded and bright red. The winter-buds have 2 united outer scales which are usually reddish.
Distribution & Habitat: These cranberries are common in moist woodland and thickets. They venture up to timberline where they grow much shorter.
Preparation & Uses: The berries are tasty, especially when young, tasting similar to traditional cranberries even though it is not related to traditional cranberries (which are heaths). They have tough skins and a large seed but are quite palatable apart from that. The commonest use for these berries is to make a sauce as in the following recipe:
– 5 cups fully ripened fruit
– ¼ cup water
– 1 envelope unflavoured gelatin
– 1 cup sugar or honey
Wash and crush berries. Add water, heat to a boil and simmer 10 minutes. Cool and press through a colander until only the seeds and skin remain. Discard seeds and skin. Moisten gelatin with ½ cup of the cranberry juice. Add to remainder of pulp and heat. Add sugar or honey and stir until dissolved, then cool. The sauce should be thick but not jellied.
Hutchens lists the bark of V. opulus as being antispasmodic, nervine, tonic, astringent and diuretic. Water and diluted alcohol are the solvents.
With the common name, “Cramp bark”, it is not surprising that it gives relief from cramps and spasms of an involuntary nature. These include asthma, hysteria and cramps during pregnancy. It can prevent the cramps entirely if it is used daily for the last two or three months of gestation. The recommended dose is to boil 1 tsp. of the bark in 1 cup of water for ½ hour. When this is cooled, drink 1 – 2 cups a day. It is highly esteemed as a female regulator and relaxant to ovaries and uterus. It is very effective in preventing abortion due to nervous afflictions.
Cramp bark is also very useful for intestinal cramps, while mildly effective on muscle cramps. In China the leaves and fruit are used as an emetic, laxative and antiscorbutic.
The Penobscot Indians used to steep and drink a tea of the berries for swollen glands and mumps. A related species V. prunifolium (Black Haw) is used as a tonic astringent for diarrhea and dysentery. A decoction of the bark and root was consumed for threatened abortions and was listed for such problems in the Canadian Pharmaceutical Journal — 1881 & 1883. Black haw has also been used to prevent miscarriages, relieving spasms during pregnancy and is successful against asthmatic spasms.