Herb: Wild Cherry


Latin name: Prunus avium


Synonyms: Cerasus nigra, Cerasus sylvestris


Family: Rosaceae (Rose Family)



Medicinal use of Wild Cherry:

The fruit stalks are astringent, diuretic and tonic. A decoction is used in the treatment of cystitis, oedema, bronchial complaints, looseness of the bowels and anaemia. An aromatic resin can be obtained by making small incisions in the trunk. This has been used as an inhalant in the treatment of persistent coughs. 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:
18 m
(59 feet)

Flovering:
April
to May

Habitat of the herb:

Better soils in hedgerows and woods, especially in beech woods.

Edible parts of Wild Cherry:

Fruit - raw or cooked. It can be sweet or bitter but it is not acid. The fruit can be cooked in pies etc or used to make preserves. The fruit contains about 78% water, 8.5 - 14% sugars. The fruit is about 20mm 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. An edible gum is obtained by wounding the bark.

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. The bark usually only contains small amounts of tannin, but this sometimes rises to 16%. Wood - firm, compact, satiny grain. Used for turnery, furniture, instruments.

Propagation of Wild Cherry:

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. Softwood cuttings from strongly growing plants in spring to early summer in a frame. Division of suckers in the dormant season. They can be planted out direct into their permanent positions. Layering in spring.

Cultivation of the herb:

Better soils in hedgerows and woods, especially in beech woods.

Known hazards of Prunus avium:

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.