Herb: American Plum


Latin name: Prunus americana


Family: Rosaceae (Rose Family)



Medicinal use of American Plum:

A tea made from the scraped inner bark is used as a wash to treat various skin problems and as a mouth wash to treat sores. A poultice of the inner bark is disinfectant and is used as a treatment on cuts and wounds. The bark is astringent, diuretic and pectoral. It has been used to make a cough syrup. An infusion has been used in the treatment of diarrhoea, kidney and bladder complaints. An infusion of the twigs has been used in the treatment of asthma. Although no specific mention has been seen for this species, all members of the genus contain amygdalin and prunasin, substances which break down in water to form hydrocyanic acid (cyanide or prussic acid). In small amounts this exceedingly poisonous compound stimulates respiration, improves digestion and gives a sense of well-being.

Description of the plant:



Plant:
Deciduous
Tree

Height:
6 m
(20 feet)

Flovering:
April

Habitat of the herb:

Rich soils in mixed deciduous woodland, by streams, on the borders of swamps and in hedgerows.

Edible parts of American Plum:

Fruit - raw, cooked in pies etc or used in preserves. The flesh is succulent and juicy, though it is rather acid with a tough skin. The best forms are pulpy and pleasant tasting. The fruit is best cooked, and it can also be dried for later use. The fruit is about 25mm in diameter and contains one large seed. Seed - raw or cooked. Do not eat the seed if it is too bitter - see the notes above on toxicity.

Other uses of the herb:

A green dye can be obtained from the leaves. A dark grey to green dye can be obtained from the fruit. A red dye can be obtained from the roots. This species is widely used as a rootstock for cultivated plums in North America. The tough, elastic twigs can be bound into bundles and used as brooms for sweeping the floor. Trees often grow wild along streams, where their roots tend to prevent soil erosion. Wood - heavy, hard, close-grained, strong. It weighs 45lb per cubic foot. Of no commercial value because the trunk is too small.

Propagation of American Plum:

Seed - requires 2 - 3 months cold stratification and is best sown in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe. Sow stored seed in a cold frame as early in the year as possible. Protect the seed from mice etc. The seed can be rather slow, sometimes taking 18 months to germinate. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle. Grow them on in a greenhouse or cold frame for their first winter and plant them out in late spring or early summer of the following year. Cuttings of half-ripe wood with a heel, July/August in a frame. Difficult, if not impossible. Softwood cuttings from strongly growing plants in spring to early summer in a frame. Difficult, it not impossible. Suckers in late winter.

Cultivation of the herb:

Rich soils in mixed deciduous woodland, by streams, on the borders of swamps and in hedgerows.

Known hazards of Prunus americana:

Although no specific mention has been seen for this species, it belongs to a genus where most, if not all members of the genus produce hydrogen cyanide, a poison that gives almonds their characteristic flavour. This toxin is found mainly in the leaves and seed and is readily detected by its bitter taste. It is usually present in too small a quantity to do any harm but any very bitter seed or fruit should not be eaten. 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.