Herb: Canadian Plum
Latin name: Prunus nigra
Family: Rosaceae (Rose Family)
Medicinal use of Canadian Plum:An infusion of the inner bark has been used in the treatment of colds. An infusion of the bark has been used to settle the stomach when it will not retain food. 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:Thickets, stream banks and woodland edges, in alluvial soils of river valleys and on limestone hills.
Edible parts of Canadian Plum:Fruit - raw or cooked. It can be eaten out of hand, used in pies, preserves etc, or can be dried for later use. The fruit is small and not very palatable. A sour flavour with a thick skin, though the flavour is improved tremendously if the fruit is harvested after being touched by a few frosts. The fruit is about 3cm in diameter and contains one large seed. Seed - raw or cooked. The seed contains prussic acid and there have been cases recorded of children dying after eating fruits without removing the stones. 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. The inner bark has been used as an astringent colour fixative in dyeing with other plants. Wood - hard, moderately heavy, close grained. It weighs 43lb per cubic foot. The tree is too small to be used commercially.
Propagation of Canadian 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. Softwood cuttings from strongly growing plants in spring to early summer in a frame. Layering in spring.
Cultivation of the herb:Thickets, stream banks and woodland edges, in alluvial soils of river valleys and on limestone hills.
Known hazards of Prunus nigra: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.