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Monday, October 24, 2011


The Guelder rose is native to Europe and North America and was introduced to Britain from The Netherlands, having been cultivated by the Dutch in the province of Gueldersland, hence its name. However, it was known to Geoffrey Chaucer, who called it the Gaitre-berie in his “Nun’s Priest’s Tale” in The Canterbury Tales. In this tale he suggests that it was a laxative along with ground ivy. It is a shrub which grows to between 5 and 10 feet high and is a member of the Adoxaceae family of plants. (Formerly they were in the Caprifoliaceae family.) This means it is related to the Himalayan Viburnums and the elder tree..
  It is commonly known as Cramp bark as the bark of the tree is used to alleviate spasms of various kinds in traditional systems of medicine across the world. It contains coumarins which affect the uterine muscles and help in menstrual cramps and childbirth. In centuries past the bark has been used in tisanes and decoctions for nervous spasms and asthma, convulsions, palpitations and for the heart.
  In Canada the berries have been used as a substitute for cranberries, as they have a bitter flavour which improves to a piquant one when used in jellies and preserves. It is known as the High Bush Cranberry, but it is not a relative of the true cranberry. The berries contain vitamins C and K but are not good to eat raw.
  The trees produce balls of white flowers, before the berries, and these give rise to the name, Snowball tree. Actually it resembles an elder, and the flowers from a distance can resemble those of the elder tree.
  It is the bark of the tree that is used in herbal preparations, and this is either collected in autumn, before the leaves turn yellow or purple, and then it is dried for later use, perhaps to be ground into a powder. Alternatively it is gathered in early spring before the leaf buds open. If you cannot take aspirin, you should avoid any medications made from the Guelder rose.
  The bright red berries provide winter food for birds, and a red dye can be prepared from them. A red ink can be made from the dried berries. The Russians used to make a brandy from the berries called nastoika which was used for peptic ulcers. In China the leaves re used as a purgative, while in Japan a vinegar extract from the berries is used to treat cirrhosis of the liver.
  In the Language of Flowers the Guelder rose symbolizes winter and old age, but in the Ukraine it is the symbol of the fight for independence (the blood-red berries) and a beautiful girl is compared to it, so it has particular significance, and is used as a motif in traditional embroidery.
  The decoction of the bark is potent and you only need to take a tablespoon in a cup of water 3 times a day for cramps. This is made from 1 ounce of dried bark to one pint of water boiled, then simmered for 15 minutes.
  Another remedy and tisane for stomach cramps is to take equal amounts (an ounce of each) of Guelder rose bark, angelica root, and ginger root and three ounces of fresh chamomile leaves and flowers. Pour a litre of boiling water over these and leaves to infuse for 30 minutes, then strain and drink a small cup three times a day.

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