Bitter Cherry (Prunus emarginata)

Common Name Latin Name Plant Family
Bitter Cherry
Prunus emarginata

A green dye can be obtained from the leaves[168].

A dark grey to green dye can be obtained from the fruit[168].

The bark is used to ornament baskets and is also split into strips and used for making baskets that are watertight and resist decay[99, 257]. The bark is both strong and flexible as well as being ornamental[257]. The thin outer bark can be peeled off the tree in the same way as birch trees[226]. It has been used to make baskets, mats, ropes and as an ornament on bows, arrows etc[226, 257]. The bark can also be made into a string[257].

Wood – close-grained, soft, brittle[82]. It is sometimes used for furniture because it takes a high polish[229]. An excellent fuel[99].

  • Medicinal Use

    Bitter cherry was employed medicinally by several native North American Indian tribes who used it to treat a variety of complaints[257]. It is little, if at all, used in modern herbalism.

    The bark is blood purifier, cardiac, laxative and tonic[257]. An infusion of the bark has been used in the treatment of tuberculosis and eczema[257].

    A decoction of the root and inner bark has been taken daily as a treatment for heart troubles[257].

    An infusion of the bark, combined with crab apple bark (Malus spp) has been used as a cure-all tonic in treating colds and various other ailments[257].

    The bark, stuck on with resin, has been used as a dressing for wounds, swellings etc[226, 257].

    An infusion of the rotten wood has been used as a contraceptive[257].

    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[238].

  • Edible Use

    Fruit – raw or cooked[229]. Intensely bitter[1, 11, 82, 99]. Some native North American Indian tribes saw the fruit as a great delicacy and an important food source, though others only ate it occasionally because of its bitter taste[257]. The fruit is 8 – 15mm in diameter with a thick flesh, and contains one large seed[229].

    Seed – raw or cooked. Do not eat the seed if it is too bitter – see the notes above on toxicity.

  • Cautionary Notes

    Although no specific mention has been seen for this species, it belongs to a genus where most, if not all members of the genus produce hydrogen cyanide, a poison that gives almonds their characteristic flavour. This toxin is found mainly in the leaves and seed and is readily detected by its bitter taste. It is usually present in too small a quantity to do any harm but 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.

Cultivation & Habitat

Seed – requires 2 – 3 months cold stratification and is best sown in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe[200]. Sow stored seed in a cold frame as early in the year as possible[200]. Protect the seed from mice etc. The seed can be rather slow, sometimes taking 18 months to germinate[113]. 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[11, 200]. Softwood cuttings from strongly growing plants in spring to early summer in a frame[200]. Layering in spring.
Thrives in a well-drained moisture-retentive loamy soil[11, 200]. Prefers some lime in the soil but is likely to become chlorotic if too much lime is present[1]. Succeeds in sun or partial shade though it fruits better in a sunny position[11, 200]. This species is unable to tolerate much shade competition from other trees[229]. A fast-growing but short-lived species in the wild[229]. The flowers diffuse a soft honey scent[245]. Most members of this genus are shallow-rooted and will produce suckers if the roots are damaged[238]. Plants in this genus are notably susceptible to honey fungus[200].
Western N. America – British Columbia to California and New Mexico.

Become ungovernable, break the chains of the matrix; grow and forage your own food and medicine.

*None of the information on this website qualifies as professional medical advice. Take only what resonates with your heart and use your own personal responsibility for what’s best for you. For more information [brackets] [000], see bibliography.