Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)

Wild Black Cherry

Prunus serotina

Have you ever wondered why most cough syrups are cherry flavored? The taste of course would be one reason, but in fact cherry has an affinity for treating coughs. The wild cherry bark, and fruit were commonly used for medicinal purposes to treat coughs, diarrhea, digestive complaints, red rashes, and anxiety. Today cough syrups are artificially flavored, which is super lame!

Wild black cherry resides in much of North America in abundance, so chances are you may have one standing close by.

Here are some identification clues:

  • Deciduous shrub or tree that is able to grow upwards to 90 feet tall depending on IMG_7139location.

  • Her leaves are oval or lance shaped with blunt-toothed edges

  • White flowers that grow in racemes between April – July

  • She’s in the Rose family, therefore each flower has 5 petals

  • Fruit will ripen in late summer early fall and will be dark red to almost black in color

  • Fruit hangs in dropping clusters

  • The lower part of her trunk is rough and grayish in color

  • If you scratch the surface of a twig will smell of almonds and a hint of cherry!

A quick story:

This summer my family was up in Maine visiting my grandmother. Like most visits we explore the coastline, enjoy delicious food, and discover new hidden gems. One evening we were sitting on the back porch, like we often do, sipping wine and chit chatting when I noticed these gorgeous berries hanging overhead. I’ve been visiting my grandmother for nearly 8 years in this particular house but never once bothered to question this delightful little berry. I quickly discovered she was indeed a Wild Black Cherry Tree! She was hanging high above our heads, some of her berries had dropped and were smooshed all around us. She had been there the entire time! It’s amazing when your mind shifts you start to question your surroundings and begin putting a name to each face.

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So I encourage those to look up when sipping your wine and discover someone new.

I was able to gather a few handfuls of this tiny little cherry, the fruit itself is rather aromatic and bitter while the pit is quite large in relation to the size of the fruit.  In the autumn I returned for a few pieces of the bark. Be sure to find a fresh branch and dry your shavings soon after harvesting to prevent any fermentation.  A word of caution regarding the bark, leaves, roots, and seeds. They contain cyanide-like glycosides called purasin, which can be converted to a highly toxic hydrocyanic acid. Use only healthy parts of the tree and avoid rotten, fermented, or wilted parts. Please be extremely cautious when identifying by using multiple sources and stay clear of any damaged parts as they pose the greatest risk.  Simply peel away the outer bark and gently scrape and save the inner bark. You will smell a delightful almond scent! My kids absolutely loved the smell. I put these shavings in my dehydrator for a bit and placed them in a mason jar for later use. I haven’t had to make any Cherry Bark Syrup yet, but when I do I’ll share!

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Cheers!

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