Wild Cherry (Prunus serotina)
A large tree which grows from 50 to 80 feet high and reaching 2 to 4 feet in diameter. The trunk is covered with rough, black bark. The alternate, stiff, oblong to oval leaves have serrate margins and are shiny green above and lighter underneath. The small white
flowers grow in lateral racemes, appearing when the leaves are half or more grown. The fruit is a nearly spherical, purple-black drupe, a half inch or less in diameter, ripening in late summer and autumn.
Family: Rosaceae (Rose Family)
Other Names: Wild Black Cherry, Chokecherry
Flowers: April – July
Parts Used: Bark
Habitat: Thickets. Nova Scotia to Florida and as far west as the Dakotas and Arizona.
History: American Indians had many uses for wild cherry: one tribe used a tea make from inner bark to ease pain during labor; others used a tea of the bark for diarrhea and lung problems. A decoction of the inner bark served one tribe as an enema for hemorrhoids; and another tribe cured dysentery be drinking the juice of the ripe cherries which had been allowed to ferment for a year.
Costituents: Cyanogenic glycosides (including prunasin), and enzyme (prunase), coumarins, volatile oil, tannins, resin.
Properties: Astringent, sedative, stomachic.
Main Uses: Wild cherry bark is an important cough remedy. Once ingested, the cyanogenic glycosides are hydrolized to glucose, bensaldehyde, and hydrocyanic acid, otherwise known as prussic acid. Prussic acid is excreted rapidly, largely via the lungs where it at first increases respiration and then sedates the sensory nerves which provoke the cough reflex.
Other Uses: Bronchitis, whooping cough, asthma, nervous dyspepsia, and chronic diarrhea.
Although prussic acid is highly poisonous, if wild cherry bark is used in medicinal doses, the low prussic acid content (0.07 – 0.16%) ensures that the remedy is quite safe.
Wild cherry bark also improves digestion.
Harvest: The young, thin bark is the best; very large or small branches should be rejected. Stem bark is collected in autumn and carefully dried; all dead tissue should be removed. After drying, keep in tightly closed containers in a dark place. (DO NOT BOIL WILD CHERRY BARK.)
Cold Infusion: 2 to 6 ounces, up to 3 times a day.
Tincture: [1:5, 60% alcohol, 10% glycerin] 30 to90 drops, to 4 times a day.
Warning Warning! The leaves of wild cherry are poisonous when wilted because of the prussic acid contained in them. The seeds and bark are also poisonous, although the bark may be used medicinally if dried properly.