"The bark of Viburnum Opulus, Linné"—(U. S. P.) (Viburnum Oxycoccus, Pursh).
COMMON NAMES: High cranberry, Viburnum (Pharm., 1880), Cramp bark.
Botanical Source.—This is the Viburnum Oxycoccus of Pursh. It is a nearly smooth and upright shrub or small tree, rising 5 to 12 feet in height. The stems are several from the same root, and branched above. The leaves are 3-lobed, 3-veined, broadly wedge-shaped or truncate at base, and broader than long; the lobes divaricate, acuminate, crenately-toothed on the sides, and entire in the sinuses; the petioles have 2 or more glands at the base, and are channelled above. The flowers are white or reddish-white, in rayed, pedunculated cymes; marginal flowers large and sterile; inner flowers much smaller and fertile. Fruit ovoid, red, very acid, ripens late, and remains upon the bush after the leaves have fallen. It resembles the common cranberry, and is sometimes substituted for it. The V. roseum, Snowball, or Guelder-rose tree, is a cultivated European variety, with the whole cyme turned into large sterile flowers (W.—G.). This variety is now largely cultivated in American gardens for its beauty.
History and Description.—This is a handsome, indigenous shrub, growing in low, rich lands, woods, and borders of fields, in the northern part of the United States and Canada, flowering in June, and presenting at this time a very showy appearance. The flowers are succeeded by red and very acid berries, resembling low cranberries, and which remain through the winter. The bark is the official part. As demanded by the U. S. P., it is in "flattish or curved bands, or occasionally in quills, sometimes 30 Cm. (12 inches) long, and from 1 to 1.5 Mm. (1/25 to 1/16 inch) thick; outer surface ash-gray, marked with scattered, somewhat transversely elongated warts of a brownish color, due to abrasion, and more or less marked with blackish dots, and chiefly in a longitudinal direction with black, irregular lines or thin ridges; underneath the easily-removed corky layer of a pale-brownish or somewhat reddish-brown color; the inner surface dingy-white or brownish; fracture tough, the tissue separating in layers; inodorous; taste somewhat astringent and bitter"—(U. S. P.). It has been frequently put up by the Shakers, and is then sold somewhat flattened from pressure. It yields its properties to water or diluted alcohol. Viburine is the name that was once given to a secret nostrum, purporting to be obtained from this plant. (For the histology of this species and V. prunifolium, see L. E. Sayre, Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1895, p. 386, and 1896, p. 225; also see R. H. Denniston, Pharm. Archives, 1898, p. 137.)
Chemical Composition.—The berries of V. Opulus contain valerianic acid (Dumas; phocenic acid of Chevreul, identical with the volatile acid from the fat of the dolphin), and a red coloring matter (Leo, 1834). The bark of this species also contains valerianic acid, identified by Monro (1845), and previously believed to differ from it (viburnic acid of Krämer, 1834). In addition, H. Krämer found iron-bluing tannin, and a peculiar bitter, neutral principle (viburnin), an amorphous, white powder, soluble in ether and alcohol, slightly soluble in water (see review of "The Useful Species of Viburnum," by Prof. Maisch, Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1878, p. 49).
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—High cranberry bark is a powerful antispasmodic, and, in consequence of this property, it is more generally known among American practitioners by the name of Cramp bark. It is very effective in relaxing cramps and spasms of all kinds, as asthma, hysteria, cramps of the limbs or other parts in females, especially during pregnancy, and it is said to be highly beneficial to those who are subject to convulsions during pregnancy, or at the time of parturition, preventing the attacks entirely, if used daily for the last 2 months of gestation. Like Viburnum prunifolium, it is a remedy for the prevention of abortion, and to prepare the way for the process of parturition. It allays uterine irritation with a tendency to terminate in hysteria, while in the neuralgic and spasmodic forms of dysmenorrhoea, it is a favorite remedy with many physicians. It has been used in spasmodic contraction of the bladder, and in spasmodic stricture. The doses employed are from a fraction of a drop to 20 drops of specific viburnum. The action of this agent closely resembles that of the black haw, and there is reason to believe that they are often used interchangedly for similar purposes (see Viburnum Prunifolium). The following forms an excellent preparation for the relief of spasmodic attacks, viz.: Take of cramp bark, 2 ounces; scullcap, skunk-cabbage, of each, 1 ounce; cloves, ½ ounce; capsicum, 2 drachms. Have all in powder, coarsely bruised, and add to them 2 quarts of good sherry or native wine. Dose, 1 or 2 fluid ounces, 2 or 3 times a day. Dose, of the decoction or vinous tincture of cramp bark, 2 fluid ounces, 2 or 3 times a day; specific viburnum, 1/10 to 30 drops. "It may be proper to remark here that I have found a poultice of low cranberries very efficient in indolent and malignant ulcers; and, applied round the throat in the inflammation and swelling attending scarlatina maligna, and other diseases, it gives prompt and marked relief. Probably the high cranberries will effect the same results" (J. King). (See Vaccinium Macrocarpum and Cataplasma Oxycocci.)
Specific Indications and Uses.—Cramps; uterine pain, with spasmodic action; pain in thighs and back; bearing down, expulsive pains; neuralgic or spasmodic dysmenorrhoea. As an antiabortive.