- American Sloe
- Black Haw
- King’s Crown
- Snowball Tree
The American plant known as the black haw is native to the American continent, and it is believed to have been in traditional use for preparation of many types of herbal remedies as well as a source of food by the original Native Americans – though documentation is scarce. The black haw is a shrub or more correctly a small deciduous tree which can reach a height of five to fifteen feet when fully mature.
This herb is characterized by its red brown bark and the grooved branches. The black haw plant also bears a number of characteristic flat topped white flowers and in season many shiny and blue black berries, the black haw berries are very juicy and used in many Native American food preparations.
The herbal literature does not have too many details on the various traditional foods and remedial preparations traditionally made from the black haw by the different Native American peoples – though such preparations were historically used in much of America.
At the same time, even though documentation is lacking, according to one source, the treatment of venereal diseases was supposedly carried out by Native Americans through the use of an herbal decoction or remedial extract made from the boiled black haw bark – this supposed historical use of the herb cannot be confirmed.
At the same time, there is a lot of documentation on the myriad uses of the black haw’s as an early colonial American home medicine – it is presumed that the early colonists learnt the different uses of the black haw from Native Americans.
The first published and documented mention of the use of the black haw appeared in a document dating to 1857, though it is assumed that the plant must have been in widespread use as a home based remedy as early as the 1800’s.
The black haw as a remedial herb was listed in the U.S. Pharmacopeia in 1882 directly as due to the increasing use and demand for the plant and because of the repeated articles on the purported benefits of the herb in many of the medical and pharmaceutical journals of that era, the plant was listed in the U.S. Pharmacopeia until the year 1926 and it remained a very popular source of home based remedies for a long time.
Bark, root bark.
The black haw has been traditionally used in a number of ways by the Native Americans, the stem of the herb were used to make baskets, while the berries were turned into a kind of jam.
Fertility was believed to be boosted by the plant, and to increase a slave woman’s ability to bear more children, many Southern slave owners used to coerce their female slaves to eat the black haw berries – the idea being to make her bear more children.
The supposed ability of the herb to boost fertility in women is even mentioned in the old clinical text called the Kings American Dispensatory, this 19th-century medical text was extensively used by medical doctors of that era.
In this text, a group of doctors called the Eclectic movement state various uses of the herb to boost fertility and to preclude abortion in women, it is written:” It was customary for planters to compel female slaves to drink an infusion of black haw daily whilst pregnant to prevent abortion”- thus the plant was believed to control fertility and the reproductive functions of women.
It is also known that long before the colonization of North America by Europeans, in many indigenous Native American cultures, the women traditionally made use of the black haw plant for medicinal purposes – using a wide variety of herbal remedies made from different parts of the herb.
In many North American cultures, the physical symptoms associated with menopause and the symptoms of menstrual cramps in women were treated by drinks of a decoction prepared from the bark of the black haw plant, the bark decoction was also used in the prevention of miscarriages and to ease the intense pains following labor during the birth of a child.
Disorders of the blood and problems such as migraines were also traditionally treated using species of plants related to the black haw. As Europeans came to the continent, they learnt the value of the black haw from natives, and used it in many remedial applications; the black haw was very highly regarded as a remedy by the Eclectics, mentioned before.
For example, internal irritation in the womb is alleviated by the remedies made from black haw bark, in women with a history of difficult pregnancies; the herbal remedy made from this herb is therefore an useful and very potent ally in dealing with various symptoms.
The presence of a particular helpful chemical known to be a uterine relaxing agent called scopoletin confirms the validity of its traditional use in this role to some extent. Many modern herbalists still swear by the remedial properties of the black haw bark.
As an herbal remedy, the strong astringent and anti-spasmodic effects of the black haw are used specifically in the treatment of pain associated with the menstrual cycle in affected women. Many other gynecological disorders and conditions are also treated using the remedies derived from the black haw bark, thus the practices of the 19th-century are still followed by many herbalist.
Some of the conditions treated using the bark include excessive bleeding during menopause in women, the prolapse of the uterus, the presence of morning sickness during pregnancy, and the threat or signs of miscarriage in pregnant women.
The presence of colic or the presence of cramping pain along the bile ducts, pain along the digestive tract and the urinary tract are also typically treated using the black haw herb, the strong anti-spasmodic action of the plant comes into play and helps alleviate such physical conditions.
Habitat and cultivation
The black haw plant grows in treelike forms in southern areas of the United States, while it grows in the form of a shrub in the northern regions; the plant is a native species – it is endemic to the North American continent.
Dosage requirements differ based on the type of remedy derived from the herb, dosages for the herbal decoction can be a cup of the decoction, taken thrice daily during the treatment period.
The decoction can be prepared by boiling two teaspoonfuls of the dried black haw bark in a cup of water, the water must be brought to a gentle boil and then allowed to simmer for ten minutes before being cooled and strained. The black haw herb is also used to prepare a herbal tincture, dosage of the tincture can be a single dose of 5 to 10 ml of the tincture taken thrice daily during the treatment period.
Collection and harvesting
Autumn is the usual period for harvesting of black haw root and trunk bark, this is preceded by the collection of bark from stems in the spring or summer. The normal way of collection of bark, is by uprooting the entire shrub and then carefully stripping off the bark from the roots and the trunk of the herb.
During the summer or the spring the bark of the branches is collected and stored after drying – the difference in collecting time ensures optimal utilization of the plant as individual plants are dead when uprooted during autumn. Drying of the bark is carried out in shaded areas in all cases and these are then stored and processed to be used in herbal medications at a later time.