Herb: Pin Cherry

Latin name: Prunus pensylvanica

Synonyms: Cerasus pensylvanica

Family: Rosaceae (Rose Family)

Medicinal use of Pin Cherry:

An infusion of the bark has been used in the treatment of fevers, bronchitis, coughs and colds, infections and blood poisoning. A decoction of the inner bark has been used in the treatment of laryngitis. A poultice of the boiled, shredded inner bark has been applied to a bleeding umbilical cord. An infusion of the inner bark has been used as an eye wash for sore eyes. The astringent root bark has been used as a wash on old sores and ulcers. A decoction of the root has been used as a treatment for stomach pains. The fruit is often used domestically in the preparation of cough mixtures. 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:


12 m
(39 feet)

to May

Habitat of the herb:

Rocky woods in moist rather rich soils. Prefers wet woodlands, old tamarack bogs and interdunal swamps.

Edible parts of Pin Cherry:

Fruit - raw or cooked. A thin sour flesh. Usually too sour to be eaten raw, it is used mainly for making pies, jellies etc. The fruit is about 6mm in diameter and contains one large seed. A gum that exudes from the trunk can be used as a chewing gum. Seed - raw or cooked. 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. The outer bark is used to ornament baskets. It is watertight and resists decay. The tree has a vigorous root system and is sometimes planted to stabilise soils and contain erosion. It is a good pioneer species for burnt over land. It establishes quickly, providing shelter for other woodland trees and then dying out. Wood - light, soft, close grained. It weighs 31lb per cubic foot. Only used as a fuel.

Propagation of Pin 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. The stored seed is best given 2 months warm followed by 3 months cold stratification. 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. A very low percentage. Softwood cuttings from strongly growing plants in spring to early summer in a frame. Layering in spring.

Cultivation of the herb:

Rocky woods in moist rather rich soils. Prefers wet woodlands, old tamarack bogs and interdunal swamps.

Known hazards of Prunus pensylvanica:

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.