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Black Haw

Black Haw

Botanical Description & Habitat

Viburnum prunifolium


Common Names
Black haw
Sweet viburnum

Common in central and southern North America.

Medicinal Parts
The dried bark of the root or stem.

Historical Properties & Uses

Black haw bark was a discovery of early American physicians who used it more than any other herb for practically all female problems. It was commonly believed black haw would relax the uterus, relieve painful menstruation, fight diarrhea, and generally tone up the whole female reproductive system.

Black haw was official in most pharmacopoeias of the 19th century, for treatment of dysmenorrhea, threatened abortion and asthma. Use of black haw tapered off during the first half of this century, but is now enjoying a comeback.

Recently, chemists discovered several uterine muscle relaxants in black haw.

From a variety of tests on animals, a definite antispasmodic property has been established. Black haw stabilizes tonus and reduces the severity of contractions. The active principles appear to be the coumarins scopoletin and asculetin, but other constituents have been shown to also affect the uterine muscle. Extracts of the bark have a sedative effect on the CNS.

As an anti-abortion agent, the bark has not been subjected to experimental trials. However, its popularity as such encompasses two centuries and two continents, to the point it is even believed to counteract the effects of abortifacient drugs.

Method of Action

Black Haw Bark has Spasmolytic, Uterine Relaxant Properties
A series of in vitro and in vivo tests on guinea pig, rat and human uterus have all shown black haw bark extracts reduce the contractions and tonus of the uterus.

In one study, esculetin and scopoletin were identified as the active components, demonstrating from 1/8 to 1/10 the activity of papaerine.

In another study contractile activity in isolated uterine horns was induced with estrogen injections for three days preceding sacrifice of the animals. Crude extracts of black haw bark produced complete relaxation of the preparation. The researchers then isolated at least four principles very active uterine relaxants. It appeared the substances were not sympathomimetic in actioin, but selectively relaxed the uterus by acting directly on the muscle.

Black Haw Bark May have Contraceptive Action
In at least one study, extract of black haw bark was shown to produce reliable contraception in experimental animals.

Drug Interactions & Precautions

Possible Interactions
Veratrum alkaloids may potentiate the activity of black haw (up to 50%).

Additive effects may occur between the hypotensive property of this herb and that of dopamine receptor agonists such as bromocriptine mesylate.

Black haw should be used with caution in conjunction with CNS depressants or stimulants.

The hypotensive effect of black haw may be potentiated by anoretic drugs such as fenfluramine whose effects are mediated by brainstem serotonin, and may be additive with analgesics nalbuphine HCl and propoxyphene HCl.

The hypotensive property of this herb may be additive with the CNS depressant activity of the analgesic nalbuphine HCl. The same is true of the analgesic propoxyphene HCl. Due to hypotensive principles, it would be wise to avoid using black haw with procarbazine, antineoplastic agents, to eliminate the chance of CNS depression.

Safety Factors & Toxicity

Black Haw is nontoxic in therapeutic dosages.

Preparation & Administration

Use three times daily

Use 2-4g of dried bark

Liquid Extract
Use 2-4ml of 1:1 in 25% alcohol

Use 5-10ml of 1:5 in 45% alcohol

Note: This Herbal Preparation information is a summary of data from books and articles by various authors. It is not intended to replace the advice or attention of health care professionals.


Brondegaard, B. Planta Medica (Stuttgart), 23, 1973.

Hoerhammer, L., Wagner, H. & Reinhardt, H. Chemistry, Pharmacology, and Pharmaceutics of the Components From Viburnum Prunifolium and V. Opulus. Botan. Mag. (Tokyo), 79(10-11), 510- 525, 1966.

Hoerhammer, L., Wagner, H. & Reinhardt, H. New Methods in Pharmacognosy. XI. Chromatographic Evaluation of Commercial Viburnum Drugs. Deutsche Apotheker-Zeitung, 105(40), 1371-1373, 1965.

Hoerhammer, L., Wagner, H. & Reinhardt, H. Isolation of Bis(5,7,5'-Trihydroxy Flavone) (Amentoflavone) From the Bark of Viburnum Prunifolium. Naturwissenschaften, 52(7), 161, 1965.

Jarboe, C.H., Schmidt, C.M., Nicholson, J.A. & Zirvi, K.A. Uterine Relaxant Properties of Viburnum. Nature, 5064, Nov. 19, 1966, p. 837.

Mowrey, Daniel B., Ph.D. Exper. Psych., Brigham Young University. Director of Nebo Institute of Herbal Sciences. Director of Behavior Change Agent Training Institute. Director of Research, Nova Corp.


Viburnum prunifolium

? Southwest School of Botanical Medicine

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