Practical ecological knowledge for the temperate reader.

Viburnum Sp. - Bush-cranberry

Family: Adoxaceae (Honeysuckle ) (Previously in Caprifoliaceae) [E-flora]

"Shrub, slender, generally hairy, also ± glandular, especially in inflorescence, generally deciduous. Leaf: simple, entire to lobed. Inflorescence: compound cyme, umbel-like, generally terminal, rounded or ± flat-topped, generally with oblanceolate bracts, marginal flowers larger, sterile or all flowers ± alike; peduncles 1.5–4 cm; rays generally 7. Flower: ovary chambers 1 (2 abort), ovule pendent; style short, stigma lobes 3. Fruit: drupe, drupe-like. Seed: 1.
± 250 species: northern temperate, subtropics. (Latin: for pliable branches used in binding) [Clement et al. 2014 Amer J Bot 101:1029–1049] Viburnum rigidum naturalized in San Francisco Bay Area (Tilden Park); material previously identified as Viburnum edule belongs instead to Viburnum opulus." [Jepson]

Local Species;

  1. Viburnum edule - highbush-cranberry [E-flora]
  2. Viburnum opulus - American bush-cranberry [E-flora]


Species Mentioned;
V.edule & V. opulus [WRTS]


Edible Uses

Other Uses

Medicinal Uses

V. opulus; "Guelder rose is a powerful antispasmodic and is much used in the treatment of asthma, cramps and other conditions such as colic or painful menstruation[254]. It is also used as a sedative remedy for nervous conditions[254]." [PFAF]


Pruning Time: "Late winter is ideal. I prefer to prune these plants in dormancy so I can see what I’m doing. I use one of two methods: 1) Reinvigoration - I remove old, woody, overgrown stems that are crossing throughout the canopy. As well, I remove as much deadwood as is feasible (it can get pretty messy in there!). After pruning, the shrub has a structure that “makes sense”, with evenly spaced stems flowing up and out to the growing tips; 2) Renovation –In small areas, like over-planted shrub beds, it is useful to renovate woody suckering plants to grade, in rotation. For instance, one year I might renovate all the potentillas and favour the cranberries, and the next year I might renovate the cranberries. It is a drastic pruning method that is similar to coppicing. I like using this technique to control the height and width of the shrubs, and to ensure that I always have the most healthy-looking new growth. Once again, given enough space, this would not be the technique of choice." [WRTS]

Hedging: "I have been able to make acceptable hedges out of the compact forms of European cranberry. Use hand shears as you would for any hedge, after the spring growth flush. Avoid shearing if the plant has powdery mildew on the leaves. I wouldn’t recommend this plant as a formal hedge for the main reason that if we get an extreme winter, you may get patchy die-back, ruining the look of the hedge." [WRTS]
V. opulus; "Plants can be grown as a tall hedge[29], they are rather bare in winter though[K]." [PFAF]

Diseases: "Powdery mildew can be a problem on the compact forms, during a warm, wet summer. Generally, the cranberries are insect and disease resistant." [WRTS]

Renovation: "As noted, old or overgrown plants can be renovated, during dormancy, to a few inches above grade. Healthy new growth will emerge and reach a height of about 2-3’ in the first growing season. This can be further reinvigorated and trained in successive seasons." [WRTS]

Irrigation & Fertilization: "As with most plants, cranberry prefers moist, well-drained soil. I provide a mulched area under the plant to protect the roots and retain soil moisture during extended hot weather, and to decrease watering requirements. These are reasonable drought-tolerant plants." [WRTS]


Viburnum edule - highbush-cranberry

"Viburnum edule is a deciduous Shrub growing to 2.5 m (8ft 2in). It is hardy to zone (UK) 5. It is in flower in June, and the seeds ripen in October. The species is hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and is pollinated by Insects. The plant is not self-fertile. Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and can grow in heavy clay soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil." [PFAF]

"General: Deciduous, sprawling to erect shrub, spreading from rhizomes and by layering, 0.5-3.5 m tall; twigs glabrous; bark smooth, reddish to grey." [IFBC-E-flora]

"Habitat / Range Wet to moist streambanks, swamps and forests in the lowland, steppe and montane zones; frequent throughout BC; N to AK, YT and NT, E to NF, and S to PA, ID, CO and OR." [IFBC-E-flora]

"Ecological Indicator Information Shade-tolerant/intolerant, submontane to subalpine, transcontinental North American deciduous shrub. Occurs in continental boreal and cool temperate climates on fresh to very moist, nitrogen-rich soils; occurrence increases with increasing continentality. Rare to common (especially in broad-leaved forests) on water-receiving and water-collecting sites. A nitrophytic species characteristic of Moder and Mull humus forms." (Information applies to coastal locations only) [IPBC-E-flora]

Status: Native [E-flora]

"Viburnum edule and related spp. (highbush cranberry); Caprifoliaceae—deciduous shrubs of moist forests, lake edges and creeks; circumpolar; tart berries cooked and eaten, considered high value feast and trade food, often eaten with grease by First Peoples; also emergency food, remaining on the bushes overwinter." [ETWP]


"When unripe, the fruits are hard and extremely acid; later, after they are touched by frost, they become softer and more palatable, though still tart." [Turner&Kuhnlein]

"The fruits begin to ripen in mid-August, and remain on the bushes throughout the fall. If picked too early, they are reputed to have a musty odor, but this dissipates with ripening or cooking (Heller, 1976). They were often picked around September, when still firm, and eaten fresh and raw, cooked, or stored until they became softer and sweeter. They were sometimes even left until mid-winter or spring before being picked (Lamont, 1977). Some people dried the fruits for storage (Densmore, 1928; Turner et al., 1990). However, most stored them in a fresh state, by freezing or keeping them under animal or fish grease or water (Turner, 1975; 'Ksan, People of, 1980)." [Turner&Kuhnlein]

"Nlaka'pamux people sometimes cooked them in soups. Tanaina people ate the raw berries for colds (Kari, 1987), and some Sechelt people ate the very ripe berries as a "blood purifier" and diuretic (R. Bouchard pers. comm., 1977, 1978)." [Turner&Kuhnlein]

"Bears, willow grouse, and other birds are known to eat these fruits (Turner, 1978; Turner et al. unpubl. notes, 1987; Myers et al. unpubl. notes, 1988)." [Turner&Kuhnlein]

Flowers added to pancake and cake batters. Blossoms can also be batter-dipped and fried. [EMNMPV.7]



Viburnum opulus - American bush-cranberry


"Viburnum opulus is a deciduous Shrub growing to 5 m (16ft) by 5 m (16ft) at a medium rate.
It is hardy to zone (UK) 3 and is not frost tender. It is in flower from Jun to July, and the seeds ripen from Sep to October. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Insects, self.The plant is self-fertile.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and can grow in heavy clay soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils and can grow in very alkaline soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist or wet soil." [PFAF]

"General: Deciduous, erect, large shrub, 1-4 m tall; twigs glabrous; bark smooth, grey." [IFBC-E-flora]

Habitat / Range
"Moist streambanks and lakesides in the steppe and montane zones; infrequent in WC, SC and SE BC; E to NF and S to PA, WY, ID, and WA." [IFBC-E-flora]
"...found in America from Newfoundland to British Columbia, and south to New Jersey, Iowa, and Oregon. It is also native to northern Europe and Asia." [EWP]

Edible Uses

"Another name given to the tree is Cramp-bark (Youngken); it has been used to treat the complaint for a long time by people living in marshy country (Wilkinson. 1981)." [DPL Watts]

CRAMPBARK (Viburnum opulus L.)
"PH2 was nice with this one, treating the American Viburnum prunifolium and ignoring the European V. opulus. Both seem to be very good cramp barks" [HMH Duke]
"Activities (Crampbark) — Antiabortive (f; MAD); Antispasmodic (1; FAD; WAM); Astringent (1; FAD); Diuretic (f; APA); Emetic (1; FAD); Hypotensive (f; APA); Laxative (1; FAD; MAD); Myorelaxant (f; APA); Sedative (f; APA); Uterorelaxant (1; FAD)." [HMH Duke]
Select Indications (Crampbark) — Cold (f; DEM; MAD); Cough (1; MAD; WAM); Cramp (1; DEM; FAD; WAM); Dysmenorrhea (1; FAD; MAD; WAM); Uterosis (f; DEM; MAD); [HMH Duke]
"Dosages (Crampbark) — 15 g/bark/750 ml water (APA); 1 tsp tincture/cup water to 3 ×/day (APA); 2–4 g bark in decoction (HH3); 2–8 ml liquid bark extract (PNC); 1.8–3.5 g fl extract (MAD)." [HMH Duke]
"Contraindications, Interactions, and Side Effects (Crampbark) — Class 1 (AHP). “Canadian regulations do not allow crampbark as a non-medicinal ingredient for oral use products” (Michols, 1995). Not for use by anyone with kidney stones (WAM). Large overdoses may cause coma, dry mouth, dyspnea, irregular movements, nausea, and irregular speech." [HMH Duke]

"Seed - best sown in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe. Germination can be slow, sometimes taking more than 18 months. If the seed is harvested 'green' (when it has fully developed but before it has fully ripened) and sown immediately in a cold frame, it should germinate in the spring[80]. Stored seed will require 2 months warm then 3 months cold stratification and can still take 18 months to germinate[113]. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in a cold frame or greenhouse. Plant out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer of the following year. Cuttings of soft-wood, early summer in a frame[200]. Pot up into individual pots once they start to root and plant them out in late spring or early summer of the following year. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, 5 - 8 cm long with a heel if possible, July/August in a frame[78, 113]. Plant them into individual pots as soon as they start to root. These cuttings can be difficult to overwinter, it is best to keep them in a greenhouse or cold frame until the following spring before planting them out[113]. Cuttings of mature wood, winter in a frame. They should root in early spring - pot them up when large enough to handle and plant them out in the summer if sufficient new growth is made, otherwise keep them in a cold frame for the next winter and then plant them out in the spring. Layering of current seasons growth in July/August. Takes 15 months[78]." [PFAF]

"An easily grown plant, it succeeds in most soils but is ill-adapted for poor soils and for dry situations[1]. It prefers a deep rich moist loamy soil in a sunny position[11]. Succeeds in semi-shade but does not grow or fruit so well in such a position[186]. Grows well in heavy clay soils and on chalk[184]. Does not do well on very acid soils. Best if given shade from the early morning sun in spring[200]. A very ornamental plant[1], it is hardy to about -30°c[184] and is often grown in the flower garden. There are many named varieties[184]. Guelder rose regenerates quickly if it is cut to the ground, it can also produce suckers and will often form thickets[186]. The plant is an alternative host for the broad bean aphid[11]." [PFAF]
Wildlife: "They are eaten by our winter birds, but these rarely touch them until all other wild fruits are gone." [EWP]



  1. [E-flora] opulus&redblue=Both&lifeform=4, Accessed Jan 14, 2015; November 18, 2021
  2. [PFAF], Accessed Jan 14, 2015

Page last modified on Tuesday, February 8, 2022 9:26 PM