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  • Prunus virginiana L.
  • Rosaceae
  • Rose family

Common Names

herbsCherry bark
herbsWild 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".

Where Found

Found in thickets chokecherry can be located in North Carolina, Missouri, Louisiana, Kansas to Canada. Native to North America.

Medicinal Properties

Antitussive, pectoral, astringent, carminative, sedative

Biochemical Information

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, 10-15 drops.


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.

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