- Black Cherry
- Prunus Serotina
- Rum Cherry,
- wild cherry,
The black cherry tree produces masses of white, fragrant blossoms that bloom later than most trees. They are small, have five petals, and grow in long clusters. The cherries themselves ripen in the summer are a very dark red. They are around 1/3 inch in diameter and have a single stone in them.
The black cherry tree is a large and notably straight-growing tree that can reach up to 100 feet tall. The bark of the mature tree is very dark and breaks into many upturned plates. Black cherry leaves are a glossy green, lance-shaped with fine teeth, and are 2-5 inches long. The leaves produce cyanide, which has a distinctive cherry-like smell and is harmless to humans in small doses (Cook).
Plant Type: Medium to Large Tree
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Canopy Tree
Cultivars/Varieties: Minimally improved; few cultivars available
Flowering: Late spring/early summer (May-July depending on where it is planted
Years to Begin Bearing: 10 years,
Years to Maximum Bearing: 30+ years, but decent crops can be had on 10 year old trees
Years of Useful Life: 100+ years, but some individuals can live to over twice that age
The black cherry tree was extremely important medicinally to the American Indians. The dried inner tree bark was commonly used to make a tea or infusion that was treated for a variety of symptoms, including
- labor pains, and
- general pain reliever due to its tranquilizing and sedative qualities (Peirce).
- In the Appalachians, the bark was used as a cough remedy and sedative
- to cleanse and
- decongest the lungs,
- blood, and
- lymphatic system.
- Combined with other respiratory herbs, it can help control asthma.
- A cold brew of the bark can also be used as a calming wash for irritated eyes and skin.
- intestinal worms,
- cold sores, and other
- dermatological symptoms.
- cough syrups by tribes such as the Delaware.
- “mild sedative and expectorant to clear congestion” (Peirce).
Wild Cherry, or chokecherry, was an important food for the Native Americans of the Northern Rockies, Northern Plains, and Boreal forests of Canada and the US, and was also used medicinally to treat colds, fevers, and stomach problems.
It was also an ingredient used in a smoking mixture called kinnikinnick.
The berries have been used by Native Americans and Colonists alike to make jams, jellies, wines, and syrups.
It is the official fruit of North Dakota due to it’s frequent occurrences at important archeological digs. The leaves, especially when wilted, are toxic to livestock such as horses, goats, cattle, and some wild animals.
1 teaspoon of the dried bark or powder, infused into a cup of water for 15 minutes, three times daily, or a tincture of 1-2 ml three times daily. It can also be prepared in similar doses as a decoction or cough syrup.
- The oldest documented Black Cherry tree is in the U.S. and was 258 years old.
- Black Cherry Trees are host to a large variety of caterpillars.
- It has been very invasive in Europe where it was used as an ornamental and unique fruit tree.
- Cherry Bounce is a liqueur of cherries steeped in brandy, rum, or whiskey, and it was a popular drink in the Colonial United States.
- “Extract the Juice of 20 pounds of well ripend Morrella Cherrys
- Add to this 10 quarts of Old French brandy and sweeten it with White Sugar to your taste—To 5 Gallons of this mixture add
- one ounce of Spice Such as Cinnamon, Cloves and Nutmegs of each an Equal quantity Slightly bruis’d and
- a pint and half of Cherry kernels that have been gently broken in a mortar—
- After the liquor has fermented let it Stand Close-Stoped for a month or Six weeks—then bottle it remembering to put a lump of Loaf Sugar into each bottle.”
Dried native wild fruits, such as the chokecherry and the June berry, were articles of intertribal commerce for Native Americans.
The agricultural tribes prepared some of these for themselves, but being occupied with the care of their cultivated crops they did not put up such great quantities of them as did the non-agricultural tribes on the high plains.
Consequently, the agricultural tribes traded surplus products of their crops for the surplus products of the non-agricultural tribes.
When the Arikaras traded with the Dakotas, they paid 1 hunansadu (roughly an arms length) of shelled corn for 1/2 hunansadu of chokecherries.
When they bought dried June berries, they paid for them at the same rate as for chokecherries. June berries are harder to gather than chokecherries, but easier to prepare by drying.
The chokecherries are easy to gather, but the process of pounding them to a pulp, shaping this pulp into cakes and drying them is laborious; hence they were equal in price.
Native Americans made a beautiful red dye from the juice.