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What Is Coralberry?

A beautiful member of the huckleberry family of plants, the ornamental coralberry appears in many open wooded areas, sometimes by streams and riverbanks and often where post oak trees thrive. Rather than propagating through seeds, they grow in “colonies” as their roots form nodes under the ground, forming shrubs with arching branches that reach as high as 6 feet.

With its musical-sounding botanical name of Symphoricarpos orbiculatus, coralberry falls under a wide umbrella that encompasses other plants, including the Ardisia crenata. It also goes by the moniker of buckbrush, as well as Indian currant, wolfberry and waxberry. Magenta-hued berries grow in sputnik-like clusters that can be collected in autumn and winter by shaking the branches so they fall onto drop cloths. Their tiny seeds can be extracted by macerating them in water. As a woodland plant, according to Wildflower.org:

“To keep it at a low height, cut it back to knee high every 5 to 10 years. If it gets too leggy, it can be cut back to the ground and it will come back bushier and with more berries the next year.”1

Birds love eating them and, as expected, research has found that a substance in the leaves of this plant, identified as FR900359 (FR), is very effective at preventing bronchial muscles from contracting, with great potential for treating asthma. Asthma is considered a chronic disease from lung inflammation, which narrows airways. Breathing can become difficult and symptoms are often severe and life threatening.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NIH) advises sufferers to take an active role to control their asthma, in part, by avoiding triggers for long-term control and using quick-relief or “rescue” medicines when necessary.2 According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 18.4 million adults and 6.2 million children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with asthma.3

Up until very recently, coralberry plants were ignored as a medicinal source, which is interesting since they can be found growing prolifically in eastern parts of the U.S., as well as in Texas, Colorado and South Dakota, with some strains native to Asia.

Leaves From the Coralberry Effective as a Medicinal

Folklore has it that coralberries were used by Native Americans for treating eye problems, as well as for a mild sedative. There may be something to that, as the plant’s dried roots, known as devil’s shoestrings, came in handy for stunning fish to catch them. According to Science Daily, research at the University of Bonn, conducted in collaboration with asthma specialists from the U.K. and subsequently published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, found:

“FR900359 is very effective at preventing the bronchial muscles from contracting. Asthmatics regularly suffer from these pronounced contractions preventing adequate ventilation of the lungs. The resulting shortness of breath can be life-threatening.”4

The compound made from coralberry leaves was found to relieve such spasms more effectively than the common asthma drug salbutamol. In fact, study co-author Dr. Michaela Matthey commented that FR900359 achieved “a much greater effect” than traditional drugs,5 and it lasted longer as well, The People Post6 noted.

Researchers further noted that “chronic exposure to receptor-activating medications results in desensitization.”7 For people with severe asthma, there’s a concern regarding long-term usage of medications, especially coupled with the fact that the disease is not really controlled and the fact that a sub-group of patients don’t respond to current therapies to a meaningful degree.

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