Herb: Rocky Mountain Chokecherry

Latin name: Prunus virginiana melanocarpa

Synonyms: Prunus melanocarpa

Family: Rosaceae (Rose Family)

Medicinal use of Rocky Mountain Chokecherry:

The bark is astringent, pectoral, sedative and tonic. The bark can be made into a cough syrup. A drink of the fruit juice has been used to stop bleeding following the delivery of a baby. 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:


3.6 m
(12 feet)


Habitat of the herb:

Prairies and valleys. Moist soils along creeks in valleys and on hills and mountainsides to about 2,500 metres.

Edible parts of Rocky Mountain Chokecherry:

Fruit - raw or cooked. The fruit must be fully ripe otherwise it is very astringent. This sub-species is larger and less astringent than P. virginiana and some forms can be quite nice raw. 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. The native N. American Indians 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. 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 red-brown dye can be obtained from the inner bark. A dark grey to green dye can be obtained from the fruit. A dark red dye can be made from the fruit. A purplish-red dye is obtained from the fruit. Wood - close grained, moderately strong, hard, heavy, does not burn easily. Used for skewers etc.

Propagation of Rocky Mountain 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. Moist soils along creeks in valleys and on hills and mountainsides to about 2,500 metres.

Known hazards of Prunus virginiana melanocarpa:

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.