Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana)

P. nana. Padus rubra.
Common Name Latin Name Plant Family
Prunus virginiana

The plant forms thickets by means of suckers from its extensive root system and can be planted for erosion control[149]. It is a pioneer species of abandoned fields and cut-over lands[229].

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

A green dye is obtained from the inner bark in spring[155].

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

A purplish-red dye is obtained from the fruit[155].

Wood – close grained, moderately strong, hard, heavy, does not burn easily. The wood weighs about 36lb per cubic foot[227]. It is not valuable because of its small size and irregular shape, but is used for skewers etc[99, 149, 229].

  • Medicinal Use

    Chokecherry was widely employed medicinally by many native North American Indian tribes who used it to treat a variety of complaints, valuing it especially for its astringency and beneficial effect upon the respiratory system[257]. It is little, if at all, used in modern herbalism.

    The roots and the bark are a blood tonic, astringent, pectoral, sedative, tonic and appetite stimulant[46, 61, 226]. An infusion has been used in the treatment of fevers, coughs and colds[257]. An infusion of the root bark has been used as a wash for burns, old sores and ulcers[257].

    The inner bark is used externally in the treatment of wounds[222]. A decoction of the inner bark has been used as a treatment for laryngitis and stomach aches[257].

    The bark is sometimes used as a flavouring agent in cough syrups[227].

    The dried and powdered fruits are used to stimulate the appetite, treat diarrhoea and bloody discharges of the bowels[222, 257]. The astringent unripened fruit has been used by children as a treatment for diarrhoea[257].

    The fruit juice has been used as a treatment for sore throats[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[2, 55, 62, 159]. Very harsh, it is normally used in pies, jellies etc[155, 183]. Dark and juicy, it is sometimes edible raw when fully mature[82, 101]. The fruit can be dried and is then quite nice raw[85]. The fruit is up to 8mm in diameter and contains a single large seed[227].

    Seed – raw or cooked. Very nutritious, they are added to pemmican[183]. Do not eat the seed if it is too bitter – see the notes above on toxicity.

    The bark and twigs are a tea substitute[161, 183].

  • Cautionary Notes

    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[65]. 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. Division of suckers during the dormant season. They can be planted out direct into their permanent positions.
Requires a well-drained moisture retentive soil[11]. Requires a sunny position[11]. Thrives in a loamy soil, doing well on limestone[11]. Prefers some chalk in the soil but apt to become chlorotic if too much is present[1]. A fast-growing but short-lived tree in the wild[229], it has a tendency to form thickets of considerable extent from root sprouts[227]. Sometimes cultivated for its edible fruit, and sold in local markets[46], there are a number of named varieties some of which have much less astringent fruit[183]. The fruit is not very freely borne in Britain[11], though good crops are borne almost annually in the wild[227]. 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].
N. America – British Columbia to California, east to Newfoundland and North Carolina.

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.