Herb: Holly-Leaved Cherry
Latin name: Prunus ilicifolia
Synonyms: Laurocerasus ilicifolia
Family: Rosaceae (Rose Family)
Medicinal use of Holly-Leaved Cherry:An infusion of the leaves, or of the bark and roots, has been used as a cough medicine. 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:
Habitat of the herb:Borders of streams and moist sandy soils, where it makes a small tree. It is also found on dry hillsides where it is only a shrub.
Edible parts of Holly-Leaved Cherry:Fruit - raw, cooked or dried for later use. A pleasant tart taste, it is considered by some people to be a great delicacy. A thin, slightly acid, astringent flesh. The fruit can be mixed with lemon to make a sauce. The fruit only has a very thin flesh, it is about 15mm in diameter and contains one large seed. Seed - raw or cooked. The seed can be ground into a meal, leached to remove the bitterness and then mixed with flour to make bread etc. The seed meal can be leached by placing it in a basket and then pouring warm water over it. 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. Wood - heavy, hard, strong, close grained. Usually too small to be of commercial importance, it is used mainly as a fuel.
Propagation of Holly-Leaved 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. Layering in spring.
Cultivation of the herb:Borders of streams and moist sandy soils, where it makes a small tree. It is also found on dry hillsides where it is only a shrub.
Known hazards of Prunus ilicifolia: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.