Highbush Cranberry

Highbush Cranberry
Viburnum edule

The sour berries of this shrub hang on their stems, three to seven in a bunch, with all of the individual stems radiating from a single point. This characteristic distinguishes highbush cranberry from the poisonous baneberry, whose berries are attached to the upright main stem of the plant in an alternate manner.

Each berry of Viburnum edule contains one large flat stone; the interior flesh is red. The shrub grows up to 6 feet (2 meters) high with several to many stems. Its leaves are rounded, toothed, and shallowly three-lobed with a rounded base. The flower clusters are white cymes. Each flower has five stamens inserted on the corolla opposite the five lobes.

Highbush cranberry grows in woods and thickets all over Alaska except for the Aleutians, the Arctic and western coast.

In The Merck Index, dried bark of V. opulus (a relative of V. edule) is listed as containing viburin, bitter resin, tannin, and sugar. It also has citric, malic, oxalic, and valeric acids. Nicholson et al. describes the antispasmodic effects of viopudial, a new non-alkaloidal material isolated from V. opulus bark.

Medicinal uses:
Its other common name of "cramp bark" and its listing in the therapeutic category "antispasmodic" in The Merck Index both indicate that highbush cranberry is a natural source of muscle relaxant. I have tried it as a treatment for menstrual cramps many times and it has always worked: use one cup of tea made from a handful of bark shavings.

A highbush cranberry leaf decoction has been used for sore throats. (Smith) The bark of the highbush cranberry is Tanaina medicine for stomach trouble; these natives boil and drink the tea. Upper Cook Inlet people say it is good for colds, sore throat, and laryngitis. (Kari)

In 1971, Nicholson, Darby and Jarboe reported the isolation of viopudial from V. opulus. Viopudial produced bradycardia, hypotension, and some decrease in myocardial contractility. Experimental evidence indicates viopudial's action is partly due to its effects on cholinesterase. Viopudial was relatively weak when compared to the known potent inhibitor physostigmine.

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Copyright © 1987 by Eleanor G. Viereck