This beautiful shrub has pretty white flowers in the summer, maple shaped leaves and translucent, bright red berries in the autumn. The berries turn black on drying and have been used in the past in making ink. Like many berries they are mildly toxic when raw and can cause digestive upsets if consumed in any quantity, but they are great to use in jellies and jams and are a rich source of vitamin C. However be warned as the berries can leave a rather strange aftertaste when eaten and have a slightly unpleasant smell about them too!
This plant is also known as cramp bark and is great for relaxing smooth muscle spasms. I tend to prescribe it in tincture form mainly for intestinal and uterine cramps associated with menstruation. It may also be helpful for muscular spasms and migraines.
The bark can also be used in tea form. Carefully remove bark from the stems of the shrub, cut into small pieces and place somewhere warm and dry. Once the bark has dried completely it can be stored in an airtight jar and will keep for several years. A decoction can be made by adding 2 teaspoonfuls of crushed bark to 250 ml of cold water and bringing to a boil in a saucepan. Then simmer for 10-15 minutes and strain. This tea can be drunk up to three times per day.