Herb: Bird Cherry


Latin name: Prunus padus


Synonyms: Padus racemosa


Family: Rosaceae (Rose Family)



Medicinal use of Bird Cherry:

The bark is mildly anodyne, diuretic, febrifuge and sedative. An infusion is used in the treatment of colds, feverish conditions etc. The bark is harvested when the tree is in flower and can be dried for later use. 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:
15 m
(49 feet)

Flovering:
May

Habitat of the herb:

By streams and in moist open woods, usually on alkaline soils but also found on acid soils in upland areas.

Edible parts of Bird Cherry:

Fruit - raw or cooked. The fruit usually has a bitter taste and is used mainly for making jam and preserves. The fruit is about the size of a pea and contains one large seed. Flowers - chewed. Young leaves - cooked. Used as a boiled vegetable in Korea. Seed - raw or cooked. Do not eat the seed if it is too bitter - see the notes above on toxicity. A tea is made from 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. Wood - hard, heavy, durable, easy to work, polishes well. It is much valued by cabinet makers.

Propagation of Bird 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. Cuttings of mature wood, October/November in a frame. Suckers removed in late winter. Layering in spring.

Cultivation of the herb:

By streams and in moist open woods, usually on alkaline soils but also found on acid soils in upland areas.

Known hazards of Prunus padus:

The seed and leaves contain hydrogen cyanide, a poison that gives almonds their characteristic flavour. This toxin is readily detected by its bitter taste. Usually present in too small a quantity to do any harm, 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.