- Prunus virginiana L.
- Rose family
black cherry bark
Parts Usually Used
Barks and fruits
Description of Plant(s) and Culture
A North American wild cherry tree (Prunus virginiana) and its astringent
fruit are called chokecherry. This shrub or small fruit tree grows
to 20 feet in height. Smaller than the black cherry. Leaves are oval,
sharp-toothed, midrib hairless. Flowers white, in the thicker raceme.
Blooms April to July. Fruits are reddish. Non-aromatic bark.
Also known as chokecherry (Prunus demissa) and (P. melanocarpa).
These were used by Native Americans to make pemmican, mixed with elk,
deer meat and fat back; used as traveling rations as well as everyday
food. Paiute name for the chokecherry "Daw-esha-boi".
Found in thickets chokecherry can be located in North Carolina, Missouri,
Louisiana, Kansas to Canada. Native to North America.
Antitussive, pectoral, astringent, carminative, sedative
Hydrocyanic, glycoside, isoamygdaline, organic acids, tannin.
Legends, Myths and Stories
Dried native wild fruits, such as the chokecherry and the June berry,
were articles of intertribal commerce for Native Americans. The agricultural
tribes prepared some of these for themselves, but being occupied with
the care of their cultivated crops they did not put up such great
quantities of them as did the non-agricultural tribes on the high
plains. Consequently, the agricultural tribes traded surplus products
of their crops for the surplus products of the non-agricultural tribes.
When the Arikaras traded with the Dakotas, they paid 1 hunansadu (roughly
an arms length) of shelled corn for 1/2 hunansadu of chokecherries.
When they bought dried June berries, they paid for them at the same
rate as for chokecherries. June berries are harder to gather than
chokecherries, but easier to prepare by drying. The chokecherries
are easy to gather, but the process of pounding them to a pulp, shaping
this pulp into cakes and drying them is laborious; hence they were
equal in price.
Native Americans made a beautiful red dye from the juice.
Non-aromatic bark, similar to that of black
cherry. Externally, used for wounds.
Dried powdered berries once used to stimulate
appetite, treat diarrhea,
and bloody discharge of bowels.
Chokecherry calms the respiratory nerves and allays coughs, bronchitis,
scrofula, fever, and asthma.
It also is an outstanding remedy for weakness of the stomach with
irritation, such as ulcers, gastritis, colitis,
dyspepsia, diarrhea, and
dysentery. It is helpful
combined in digestive tonics with such herbs as licorice, ginseng,
cypress, anise and tangerine peel. These herbs are macerated for two
weeks to six months in rice wine. They are then strained and the resultant
tincture is taken in teaspoonful doses before meals. The Native Americans
employed the sedative properties of this plant to assist in relieving
the pains of labor and childbirth. The bark, collected in the fall,
is one of the best herbs for respiratory complaints and cough.
Formulas or Dosages
Normal dose in hot or cold infusion (boiling destroys the amygdalin
that is the main active constituent). In formulas, 3-9 gms., tincture,
As with black or wild cherry, chokecherry's seeds, bark, and leaves
may cause cyanide poisoning.
Hydrocyanic acid is toxic in sufficient amounts and this seems especially
true of wilted leaves known to poison livestock. The toxicity appears
in all members of the Prunus genus, including almonds, peaches, apricots,
and cherries (seeds of each). All contain amygdalin which in water
hydrolizes into hydrocyanic acid. The degree of toxicity depends on
a number of factors. Removal of the outer coat of the seed; cooking
and combining with sugar or licorice lessens the potential toxic aspects.
This herb is potentially fatal. Could cause death or other serious
consequences. Its use is not recommended.