Wild cherry bark has been used in a variety of ways in years past to support the health of the body. Today, we want to peel back the layers so you can learn all about wild cherry bark and how to use it in your home or your herbal practice.
Not only are we going to share this information with you, but we’ve got a free printable monograph for you so you can have this information on hand whenever you find yourself in need of it!
How Getting To Know One Herb At A Time Can Make You A Better Herbalist
In addition to enrolling in an herbal school, it can be beneficial to become familiar with herbs by studying them one at a time.
Just like people, when we spend time with one plant at a time, we are able to forge a more intimate connection. We often encourage our students to start exploring herbs as simples—drinking a tea of just one herb, or tasting a single plant tincture—for just this reason. Tea blends and herbal compounds are wonderful in their own right, but sometimes less is more. By simplifying the interaction, we can focus on the plant that is right in front of us and tune in to it more easily.
This goes for study time, too—most herbalists swoon at a stack of good herbal books, but even just one book can be an overwhelming amount of information to take in! By focusing our study lens on one plant, we are able to retain more meaningful information as we scour multiple resources.
We encourage you to take the time to dive in deeply and really get to know the characteristics of one plant at a time—and not just what you learn in books, but how you observe a plant in nature and how you experience a plant by spending time with it or taking it into your body. By doing so, you will slowly build your understanding of each plant, and over time will amass a body of deep knowledge of the plants you have chosen to include in your materia medica. We feel that it is more helpful and meaningful to get to know a handful of plants really well than dozens of plants superficially.
The Herbarium membership is a great addition or alternative to enrolling in an online program.
We include hundreds of plant monographs in our courses and The Herbarium for good reason! Not only are the plants at the heart of our study of herbalism, they are also our connection to both the ancient and modern systems of healing that herbalism embodies and to the green world that has supported us for millennia. We believe in our hearts that the plants are worthy of study and celebration and encourage all of our students to do so. It is for this reason that we are offering this course to guide our readers and students to study the plants, one by one, and begin creating your materia medica.
Two Resources To Help You Learn More About Individual Herbs
With the launch of our newest course, Herbal Materia Medica Course, we’d like to share how a membership to The Herbarium complements this course perfectly by giving you a sneak peek at one of the herbal monographs included in your Herbarium membership—wild cherry bark.
Getting To Know Wild Cherry Bark
The information below is an exact replica of the wild cherry bark monograph you’ll find in The Herbarium. We also have a free printable of this monograph that you can download and print to add to your herbal materia medica at the end of this post.
Wild Cherry (Prunus serotina)
Wild cherry, black cherry, American cherry
Bark (from both root and branches)
Eastern and Central North America
Eastern and central North America, southwestern United States, Europe
This tree grows to a height of 100 feet with a trunk that may be up to 4 feet in diameter (Lust, 1974). On large trees, the bark is dark gray to black, rough in texture and peels off in flakes that are described as “burnt potato chips.” The bark on smaller branches and young trees is dark, smooth, and shiny with horizontal lentils (Thayer, 2010). Fresh wild cherry wood, scraped inner bark, or a snapped twig all have a characteristic almond odor due to cyanogenic glycosides. The finely serrated, lanceolate green leaves are approximately 5 inches long with pointed tips. The white flowers, which bloom in May, are arranged on long terminal racemes, while the dark purple, pea-sized fruits, which ripen in August and September, are arranged in drupes (Grieve, 1931/1971).
Cyanogenic glycosides (prunasin and amygdalin), flavonoids, benzaldehyde, volatile oils, plant acids, tannins, calcium, potassium, and iron (Hoffmann, 2003; Holmes, 1997; Piorier, 2013).
None known. Invasive in Europe.
The inner bark of the branches and roots is harvested in the midsummer or fall (when the cyanogenic compounds are lower) and dried immediately for later use in teas or syrup or tincture extractions. One can harvest branches of smaller trees and use a knife or vegetable peeler to peel off the thin outer and inner bark, as opposed to harming a larger tree by taking the bark off its trunk. The fermented bark and leaves of wild cherry are said to be toxic—never harvest these from the ground. Once harvested, peel and dry the bark immediately in a food dehydrator to ensure fermentation does not begin.
Wild cherry is a large tree in the Rosaceae (rose) family. It is native to eastern and central North America and has expanded its range to the southwestern United States. It grows in hardwood forests and fields and along roadsides and fencerows, preferring rich, well-drained sandy loam (Thayer, 2010). It should be noted that chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) is sometimes confused with wild cherry, and while they are both members of the rose family and have some similar herbal actions, they are not the same tree. This monograph focuses on wild cherry (Prunus serotina).
Wild cherry bark tea and syrup are often prepared as a cold infusion of dried bark and water, although some herbalists decoct or boil the dried bark, or tincture it fresh or dried. It’s worth researching the options and experimenting to determine which preparation method is most effective for you.
Energetically, wild cherry is both cooling and warming as well as drying, with a sweet, bitter, and pungent taste. As a member of the rose family, wild cherry is an ally for the heart and sacral chakras, as it is sweet, loving, nurturing, and sensual. It helps open the heart, making space to lovingly communicate with and receive from others.
Wild cherry is indicated for an excited tissue state, meaning heat, redness, inflammation, and tenderness (Wood, 2008). Wild cherry is considered a general restorative in the case of chronic illness such as bronchitis or during convalescence from illness. Herbalist Peter Holmes (1997) explains that wild cherry can improve recovery time due to its ability to strengthen the heart, enkindle the appetite, clear excess heat, and restore vital energy.
Wild cherry has expectorant, antitussive, astringent, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, bitter, and nervine actions. Several Native American tribes have traditionally used wild cherry for a variety of ailments. The Cherokee have used it for coughs, colds, fevers, indigestion, to ease labor pains, as a blood tonic, and as an astringent wash for sores and ulcers. The Chippewa have used it to expel worms, disinfect and dress burns, cuts, wounds, and ulcers, and in cases of cholera and tuberculosis. The Delaware have used wild cherry for diarrhea, coughs, and as a tonic for general debility, while the Iroquois have employed it for coughs, colds, fevers, headaches, bronchitis, lung inflammation, sore throats, blood purification, sores caused by “bad blood,” and burns. The Ojibwa have made use of wild cherry for chest pain and soreness (Moerman, 1998).
Wild cherry’s most popular use is for coughs and for opening the lower respiratory system. Its sedative action is helpful for easing the cough reflex and calming irritating coughs (Hoffmann, 2003). It is a great herb for respiratory infections when there is a lot of mucus, coughing, and constricted airways that make breathing difficult. Due to its astringent, sedative, antispasmodic, and bronchodilator actions, wild cherry bark dries mucus, increases expectoration, eases coughing, and opens the airways. Also, wild cherry has a soothing effect on the respiratory tract due to its action as an expectorant (Wood, 2008). It is especially helpful for coughs that make it difficult to sleep through the night, and is nice in a cough syrup for this purpose. Wild cherry bark is used for bronchitis, whooping cough, and croup. It is also helpful for soothing unproductive, irritating coughs that linger after an infection is over (Piorier, 2013). Its cooling energy and anti-inflammatory action is helpful for inflammatory conditions such as acute and chronic sinus inflammation and allergies. As a bronchodilator, it also helps ease asthma and may be used with other herbs for this purpose (Hoffmann, 2003).
Not surprising for a member of the rose family, wild cherry is also a nourishing, tonifying, and strengthening herb for the heart, with the ability to calm cardiac irregularities and palpitations. Herbalist Matthew Wood (2008) likens wild cherry to hawthorn in that they are both part of the Rosaceae family and supportive for heart and digestive imbalances. Wild cherry’s nervine, sedative actions help slow circulation and heart rate, regulating palpitations and arrhythmia. By repairing irritation in the capillaries, the anti-inflammatory flavonoids in wild cherry ease circulatory congestion, as well as heat, redness, tenderness, and rapid heartbeat. The plant’s flavonoids also exert a noticeable cooling effect, along with cyanogens, which reduce cellular heat (Wood, 2008). This temperature regulation action can also be helpful in the case of fever. Wild cherry has a dual nature in that it can also be warming for those with cold skin and poor circulation to the extremities (Wood, 2008).
Wild cherry is also helpful for digestive upset thanks to its antispasmodic action, ability to soothe irritated mucosal tissues, and its digestion-stimulating bitter taste. Herbalist Matthew Wood (2008) emphasizes its action on the small intestine, explaining that the bark can function as a sedative for calming food sensitivities, and at the same time encourages adequate digestive secretions by way of its bitter properties. Wood (2008) indicates wild cherry for digestive conditions related to nervous irritation of the stomach and intestines, indigestion, and diarrhea. Its sedative, anti-inflammatory, and astringent actions are helpful with these conditions as well, calming the digestive tract, reducing inflammation and irritation, and reducing water volume in stool.
The cooling and anti-inflammatory actions of wild cherry also make it useful as an external wash for sores, ulcers, herpes, and shingles.
Scientific studies indicate wild cherry bark exhibits antiproliferative activity in human colorectal, pancreatic, prostate, and breast cancer cells by modulating nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug activated gene-1 (Yamaguchi et al., 2006; Yang et al., 2014). Another scientific study shows that wild cherry exhibits antibacterial action, inhibiting growth of Neisseria gonorrhoeae solates (Cybulska et al., 2011).
Ways to Use
Cold infusion, Decoction, Tincture, Syrup
Expectorant, Antitussive, Astringent, Antispasmodic, Anti-inflammatory, Cardiotonic, Bitter, Nervine, Sedative
Bitter, Slightly sweet, Pungent
- Tincture: 1-2 ml (1:5 in 40%) 3x per day*
- Hot Decoction: 1 teaspoon dried bark per cup boiling water, simmer 10-15 minutes, 3x per day*
- Cold Infusion: 1.5-6 g dried bark/day divided into 1-3 doses (Mills & Bone, 2005).
Dosage information from *Medical Herbalism by David Hoffmann and **King’s American Dispensatory by H.W. Felter and J.U. Lloyd
The fermented bark and leaves of wild cherry are toxic, so never harvest these from the ground. Once harvested, peel and dry bark immediately in a food dehydrator to ensure fermentation does not begin. David Hoffmann (2003) states “theoretically, large doses of wild cherry bark are toxic” (p. 576), presumably due to the cyanogenic glycosides, which are metabolized into hydrocyanic acid (cyanide). Cyanogenic glycosides are present in many rose family plants, including apple seeds, peach pits, hawthorn seeds, and cherry bark; however, the body is able to readily detoxify low levels of hydrocyanic acid and thus wild cherry can be used safely, even in children (Piorier, 2013).
- Cybulska, P., Thakur, S.D., Foster, B.C., Scott, I.M., Leduc, R.I., Arnason, J.T., & Dillon, J.R. (2011). Extracts of Canadian First Nations medicinal plants, used as natural products, inhibit Neisseria gonorrhoeae isolates with different antibiotic resistance profiles. Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 38(7), 667–671. https://doi.org/10.1097/olq.0b013e31820cb166
- Grieve, M. (1971). A modern herbal. New York, NY: Dover Publications. (Original work published 1931). Retrieved from http://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/c/chewil56.html
- Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.
- Holmes, P. (1997). The energetics of Western herbs: Treatment strategies integrating western and oriental herbal medicine (4th ed., Vol. 2). Boulder, CO: Snow Lotus Press.
- Lust, J. (1974). The herb book. New York, NY: Bantam Books.
- Mills, S., & Bone, K. (2005). The essential guide to herbal safety. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Health Sciences.
- Moermann, D. (1998). Native American ethnobotany. Portland, OR: Timber Press.
- Piorier, E. (2014). Plant profile: Wild cherry bark. Retrieved from https://minnesotaherbalist.wordpress.com/2014/07/29/plant-profile-wild-cherry-bark/
- Thayer, S. (2010). Nature’s garden: A guide to identifying, harvesting, and preparing edible wild plants. Birchwood, WI: Forager’s Harvest Press.
- Wood, M. (2008). The earthwise herbal: A complete guide to new world medicinal plants. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
- Yamaguchi, K., Liggett, J., Kim, N.C., & Baek, S. (2006). Anti-proliferative effect of horehound leaf and wild cherry bark extracts on human colorectal cancer cells. Oncology Reports, 15(1), 275-281. https://doi.org/10.3892/or.15.1.275
- Yang, M.H., Kim, J., Khan, I.A., Walker, L.A., & Khan, S.I. (2014). Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug activated gene-1 (NAG-1) modulators from natural products as anti-cancer agents. Life Sciences, 100(2), 75–84. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lfs.2014.01.075
- Anti-proliferative effect of horehound leaf and wild cherry bark extracts on human colorectal cancer cells.
- Comparison of kinetic and molecular properties of two forms of amygdalin hydrolase from black cherry (Prunus serotina Ehrh.) seeds.
- Development of the potential for cyanogenesis in maturing black cherry (Prunus serotina Ehrh.) fruits.
- Evaluation of the hydroxynitrile lyase activity in cell cultures of capulin (Prunus serotina).
- Extracts of Canadian First Nations medicinal plants, used as natural products, inhibit neisseria gonorrhoeae isolates with different antibiotic resistance profiles.
- Flavonoids from Prunus serotina Ehrh.
- High-performance liquid chromatographic identification of flavonoid monoglycosides from Prunus serotina Ehrh.
- Identification of monomeric and polymeric 5,7,3’4′-tetrahydroxyflavan-3,4-diol from tannin extract of wild cherry bark USP, Prunus serotina Erhart, family Rosaceae.
- Immunocytochemical localization of mandelonitrile lyase in mature black cherry (Prunus serotina Ehrh.) seeds.
- Immunocytochemical localization of prunasin hydrolase and mandelonitrile lyase in stems and leaves of Prunus serotina.
- Investigation of the microheterogeneity and aglycone specificity-conferring residues of black cherry prunasin hydrolases.
- Isolation and characterization of multiple forms of mandelonitrile lyase from mature black cherry (Prunus serotina Ehrh.) seeds.
- Isolation and characterization of multiple forms of prunasin hydrolase from black cherry (Prunus serotina Ehrh.) seeds.
- Localization and catabolism of cyanogenic glycosides.
- Multiple introductions boosted genetic diversity in the invasive range of black cherry (Prunus serotina; Rosaceae).
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug activated gene-1 (NAG-1) modulators from natural products as anti-cancer agents.
- Nutraceutical value of black cherry Prunus serotina Ehrh. fruits: Antioxidant and antihypertensive properties.
- The occurrence and seasonal distribution of C50-C60-polyprenols and of C100-and similar long-chain polyprenols in leaves of plants.
- Prunus serotina amygdalin hydrolase and prunasin hydrolase: Purification, n-terminal sequencing, and antibody production.
- Prunus spp. intoxication in ruminants: A case in a goat and diagnosis by identification of leaf fragments in rumen contents.
- Quantitative analysis of amygdalin and prunasin in Prunus serotina Ehrh. using (1) H-NMR spectroscopy.
- A simple and highly sensitive spectrophotometric method for the determination of cyanide in equine blood.
- Simultaneous quantification by HPLC of the phenolic compounds for the crude drug of Prunus serotina subsp. capuli.
- Temporal and spatial expression of amygdalin hydrolase and (R)-(+)-mandelonitrile lyase in black cherry seeds.
- Tissue and subcellular localization of enzymes catabolizing (R)-amygdalin in mature Prunus serotina seeds.
- Tissue level compartmentation of (R)-amygdalin and amygdalin hydrolase prevents large-scale cyanogenesis in undamaged Prunus seeds.
- [Toxic and less toxic plants. 39. Prunus padus, Prunus serotina].
- Vasoactive and antioxidant activities of plants used in Mexican traditional medicine for the treatment of cardiovascular diseases.
Where to Buy
Free Wild Cherry Bark Monograph Printable
Now that you’ve learned about wild cherry bark, we’d like to offer you a free download and print of our wild cherry bark monograph. Simply click the link, save the monograph PDF to your computer, print it off, and add it to your herbal materia medica for future reference.
Don’t forget to check out our Herbal Materia Media Course which is free during the month of January 2017, and if you haven’t already, check out The Herbarium and how it can make creating an herbal materia medica even easier for you!