Herb: Mahaleb Cherry
Latin name: Prunus mahaleb
Synonyms: Cerasus mahaleb
Family: Rosaceae (Rose Family)
Medicinal use of Mahaleb Cherry:The seed is tonic. 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:Dry hillsides, thickets and open woods.
Edible parts of Mahaleb Cherry:The fruit might be edible. The fruits of all members of this genus are more or less edible, though not always of very good quality. However, if the fruit is bitter it should not be eaten in any quantity due to the presence of toxic compounds, see the notes above on toxicity. The fruit is about 6mm in diameter and contains one large seed. Seed - raw or cooked. The dried seed kernels are used as a flavouring in breads, sweet pastries, confectionery etc. They impart an intriguing flavour. 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. Can be used as a rootstock for the cultivated cherries. Wood - hard, very heavy, polishes well. Used for turnery, ornamental items etc.
Propagation of Mahaleb 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:Dry hillsides, thickets and open woods.
Known hazards of Prunus mahaleb: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.