Herb: Western Chokecherry


Latin name: Prunus virginiana demissa


Synonyms: Cerasus demissa, Prunus demissa


Family: Rosaceae (Rose Family)



Medicinal use of Western Chokecherry:

The bark is astringent, pectoral, sedative and tonic. A decoction of the bark has been used in the treatment of indigestion, upset stomachs, diarrhoea, coughs and colds and lung complaints. A decoction of the bark has been used for bathing wounds. The dried, pulverized bark has been used as a dusting powder to dry sores. The steam from the boiling bark has been allowed to rise into the eyes as a treatment for snow blindness. A decoction of the wood scrapings has been used by children and adults as a treatment for bowel complaints. A poultice of the leaves has been applied to oral abscesses, cuts, sores, bruises and black eyes. The ripe fruit is laxative.

Description of the plant:



Plant:
Deciduous
Shrub

Height:
3.6 m
(12 feet)

Flovering:
May

Habitat of the herb:

Prairies and valleys.

Edible parts of Western Chokecherry:

Fruit - raw or cooked. A cherry-like flavour, it can also be dried and is then quite nice raw. The fruit can also be made into syrup, jams, jellies etc. Various native North American Indian tribes ground the fruit, seeds and all, into a paste and dried them into cakes which were later soaked in water, mixed with flour and sugar and used as a sauce. The fruit contains a single large seed. Seed - raw or cooked. Ground into a powder and used as a gruel or mixed with cereal flours for making bread etc. Do not eat the seed if it is too bitter - see the notes above on toxicity. The bark and twigs are a tea substitute.

Other uses of the herb:

The plant forms thickets by means of suckers from its extensive root system and can be planted for erosion control. A green dye can be obtained from the leaves. A green dye is obtained from the inner bark in spring. A dark grey to green dye can be obtained from the fruit. A purplish-red dye is obtained from the fruit. A gum obtained from the trunk has been used as an adhesive. Wood - close grained, moderately strong, hard, heavy, does not burn easily. Used for skewers etc.

Propagation of Western Chokecherry:

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. Division of suckers during the dormant season. They can be planted out direct into their permanent positions.

Cultivation of the herb:

Prairies and valleys.

Known hazards of Prunus virginiana demissa:

The seed can contain high concentrations of 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.