Herb: Crab Apple

Latin name: Malus sylvestris

Synonyms: Malus acerba, Malus communis sylvestris, Pyrus malus

Family: Rosaceae (Rose Family)

Medicinal use of Crab Apple:

The fruit is astringent and laxative. The crushed fruit pulp can be used as a poultice to heal inflammations or small flesh wounds. The fruit is eaten to obviate constipation. The bark, and especially the root bark, is anthelmintic, refrigerant and soporific. An infusion is used in the treatment of intermittent, remittent and bilious fevers. The leaves contain up to 2.4% of an antibacterial substance called "florin". This inhibits the growth of a number of gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria in as low a concentration as 30 ppm.

Description of the plant:


10 m
(33 feet)


Habitat of the herb:

Woods, scrub and hedges, especially in oak woods, on neutral to calcareous soils.

Edible parts of Crab Apple:

Fruit - raw or cooked. Used for jellies, preserves and juices. The flavour improves considerably if the fruit is not harvested until it has been frosted. The fruit is quite variable in size (it is about 2 - 4cm in diameter) and quality. Whilst usually harsh and acid, some forms are quite sweet and can be eaten out of hand. The fruit is rich in pectin and can be used in helping other fruits to set when making jam etc. Pectin is also said to protect the body against radiation. An edible oil can be obtained from the seed. It would only really be viable to use these seeds as an oil source if the fruit was being used for some purpose such as making cider and then the seeds could be extracted from the remaining pulp. A very pleasant tea can be made from the leaves.

Other uses of the herb:

The fruit is a source of pectin. Pectin is used as a thickener in jams etc and as a culture medium in laboratories. A red to yellow dye is obtained from the bark. The wood is an excellent fuel.

Propagation of Crab Apple:

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in the autumn in a cold frame. It usually germinates in late winter. Stored seed requires stratification for 3 months at 1C and should be sown in a cold frame as soon as it is received. It might not germinate for 12 months or more. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots as soon as they are large enough to handle. If given a rich compost they usually grow away quickly and can be large enough to plant out in late summer, though consider giving them some protection from the cold in their first winter. Otherwise, keep them in pots in a cold frame and plant them out in late spring of the following year. Cuttings of mature wood, November in a frame.

Cultivation of the herb:

Woods, scrub and hedges, especially in oak woods, on neutral to calcareous soils.

Known hazards of Malus sylvestris:

All members of this genus contain the toxin hydrogen cyanide in their seeds and possibly also in their leaves, but not in their fruits. Hydrogen cyanide is the substance that gives almonds their characteristic taste but it should only be consumed in very small quantities. Apple seeds do not normally contain very high quantities of hydrogen cyanide but, even so, should not be consumed in very large quantities. In small quantities, hydrogen cyanide has been shown to stimulate respiration and improve digestion, it is also claimed to be of benefit in the treatment of cancer. In excess, however, it can cause respiratory failure and even death.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.