Guelder Rose

This wild shrub has been used throughout history primarily to relieve the discomfort of menstrual cramps.

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)Guelder rose, cramp bark, European cranberrybush, American cranberrybush, European highbush
  • Scientific nameViburnum opulus
  • Plant typeShrub
  • Native regionNorth America, Western Europe
  • Main Economic UseMedicinal
  • Plant Life CyclePerennial
Guelder rose

Guelder rose is a plant native to North America and Europe and propagates wildly in woodlands, hedges, and thickets. The history of guelder rose dates back centuries, having been used by various Native American tribes for medicinal purposes. The Meskwaki people took guelder rose mainly for body pains and menstrual cramps, a use that is still prolific today and which gave the plant its alternative name, cramp bark. Other tribes used the plant for distinct purposes, including the treatment of swollen glands and lumps. It also has a place in European history, having been mentioned by Chaucer.

Medicinal and Nutritional Information

Quick Facts (Medicinal and Nutritional Information)
  • Medicinal actionAntispasmodic, Sedative
  • Key constituentsViopudial, coumarins, valerianic acid
  • Ways to useTincture, Ointment
  • Medicinal rating(1) Very minor uses
  • Safety rankingSafety undetermined

Health Benefits of Guelder Rose

The antispasmodic and sedative properties of guelder rose have found several traditional medicinal uses:

  • Treatment for asthma
  • Relieving menstrual cramps
  • Managing the symptoms of arthritis
  • Alleviating anxiety and nervous conditions
  • Relieving tense muscles, irritable bowel, and colic

How It Works

Guelder rose is known to be a natural relaxant, and its antispasmodic qualities can prevent menstrual cramps.

The pain-relieving qualities of the plant can be in part attributed to the coumarins, which also have an antifungal activity. However, this compound is toxic if taken in high doses, so guelder rose must be taken only under medical supervision. The viopudial is the constituent that is responsible for the antispasmodic properties of the guelder rose tree, making it arguably one of the key components, as it can prevent uterine spasms, and therefore cramps, during menstruation.

To date, guelder rose has been poorly researched, so there is confusion and debate over the exact active compounds it contains. It is known to contain the natural relaxant, valerianic acid, which can promote a sense of mental well-being and has a natural sedative effect.

How to Consume Guelder Rose

Main preparations: tinctures, lotions

Guelder rose is not widely known, so decoctions and supplements are not easy to attain but are nevertheless on the market. Alternatively, wild or cultivated shrubs can be used to make guelder rose tinctures or lotions. The plant can be taken internally or applied topically, depending on the ailment.

Culinary Information

Guelder rose does not have many common culinary applications, as the plant is largely used for medicine, but the berries are sometimes made into jam.

Other Uses

The guelder rose tree or shrub is attractive enough to sometimes be raised in gardens and parks for its aesthetic value, but is also often regarded as an annoyance and destroyed. Aside from medicinal use, not much of a market exists, although the bark is sometimes used for firewood or making wooden products.


Guelder rose seeds and fresh plants are available from garden centers for planting purposes, and the guelder rose flowers, bark, and fruits can be utilized for their medicinal value. Dried and simply processed guelder rose products are not generally found. However, guelder rose tablets are available at specialized health stores and are often marketed as "cramp bark supplements," bringing attention to their primary use of preventing menstrual cramps.

Plant Biology


Guelder rose tree is a member of the Adoxaceae or adoxas family. It is a perennial plant that can grow up to 13 feet (4 m) high. The bark is a gray-brown color, and the leaves can be oval or round and up to 4 inches (10 cm) in width. The guelder rose flowers are white and occur in wide clusters, with only the middle flowers being fertile. In high summer, the bunches of bright red berries are ripe to eat.

Varieties and Subspecies of Guelder Rose

Guelder rose cultivation began in the late 17th century, so there is a small group of related species and 150 plants worldwide that are classified under the same genus. Black haw (V. prunifolium) is often used interchangeably with V. opulus, and within this species exist three main subspecies - V. opulus var. americanum (American cranberrybush), V. opulus var. opulus (guelder flower), and V. opulus var. sargentii (Takeda).


Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Life cyclePerennial
  • Harvested partsFruit
  • Growing habitatWoodlands
  • Planting timeSpring

It is best to pre-treat the seeds by planting them in a pot with good drainage and placing it a shady place for a few months. Guelder rose planting is best done in May, with the seeds being sown at least 0.3 inches (5 mm) apart and a roller being used to press the seed well into the ground. It is important to keep the seed moist at all times because they thrive in damp, woody climates. Patience must also be exercised with this plant because, even with the best of care, it will not grow for about another year. When the seedlings emerge, keep them well-watered, but do not expect leaf growth until the next spring, because another cold period is required before the leaves grow.

Additional Information

Historical Information

Guedler rose has been cultivated since the late 17th century and has been mentioned by Chaucer. It has also been used by Native American tribes for centuries as a treatment for body pain and menstrual cramps.

Economic Data

Guelder rose is an invasive plant that is widely regarded as a weed rather than revered for all its medicinal benefits, although there is a small cultivation industry. It is considered a nuisance, and for this reason, it has an unfavorable status in the USDA Plant Database; it is reported as highly invasive and undesirable in a variety of official publications. Therefore, the economic importance of guelder rose is low, and there is no guelder rose market to speak of. It does, however, have importance in the herbal medicine industry, with cultivation being mainly for this purpose, or occasionally for ornamental uses.

"Guelder rose is important to the herbal medicine industry."