chokecherry, Virginia cherry,
black cherry, scrub pine, Common Chokecherry, Virginia Pine;
nonpazhinga [little cherry] (Omaha/Ponca); nahaapi nakaaruts
[cherry tree] (Pawnee); canpa’hu [bitter-wood stem]
(Lakota); pukkeep [chokecherry] puckkeep [the berry]
(Blackfeet); monotse [berries] (Cheyenne); makwi’minuni
(Mesquakie); o’hpan-au-gaw (Kiowa); malupwa (Crow); schla
scha (Flathead); champah (Assiniboin); goonpa (Osage);
shrub or small tree 6-20 feet, often forming thickets; small
branches red-brown to dark brown.
The fruit has a sweetish, astringent, bitter taste,
and is much employed in some parts of the country to impart
flavor to liquors.
Very similar to P serotina except the leaves
of P. virginiana have sharper teeth on the margins,
and the branches of fruit are a little shorter and ripen a
It is hardy to zone 6. It is in leaf all year, and the seeds
ripen from October to February. The flowers are monoecious
and are pollinated by the wind. The plant
is not self-fertile
Thrives in a light well-drained sandy or gravelly loam.
Dislikes poorly drained moorland soils. Established plants
tolerate drought. Succeeds in very acid soils in the wild.
Often used in
reforestation projects that are aimed at reclaiming
exhausted soils in N. America.
Trees are short-lived in the wild, they can produce cones
when 5 years old, though 8 - 10 years is the average. Large
crops are followed by 1 - 2 years of low seed production.
The cones take 2 years to mature, then open and shed their
seed whilst still attached to the tree. The empty cones
persist on the trees for 3 - 4 years. Plants are strongly
outbreeding, self-fertilized seed usually grows poorly. They
hybridize freely with other members of this genus.
Leaf secretions inhibit
the germination of seeds, thereby reducing the amount of
plants that can grow under the trees.
Plants in this genus are
notably susceptible to honey fungus.
It is best to sow
the seed in individual pots in a cold frame as soon as it is
ripe if this is possible otherwise in late winter. A short
stratification of 6 weeks at 36°F can improve the
germination of stored seed. Plant seedlings out into their
permanent positions as soon as possible and protect them for
their first winter or two. Plants have a very sparse root
system and the sooner they are planted into their permanent
positions the better they will grow. Trees should be planted
into their permanent positions when they are quite small,
between 30 and 90cm. We actually plant them out when they
are about 5 - 10cm tall. So long as they are given a very
good weed-excluding mulch they establish very well. Larger
trees will check badly and hardly put on any growth for
several years. This also badly affects root development and
wind resistance. Cuttings. This method only works when taken
from very young trees less than 10 years old. Use single
leaf fascicles with the base of the short shoot. Disbudding
the shoots some weeks before taking the cuttings can help.
Cuttings are normally slow to grow away.
Chokecherries were the
most important wild fruit to the Indians of the Prairie
Biorion, who used the dried, crushed berries in their
meat-fat-chokecherry mixture known as Pemmican.
It was also used to treat
an array of ailments.
The Blackfeet drank the
juice for diarrhea and sore throat.
They also made a tea from
the inner bark combined with the service berry bark which
they drank as a purge.
Blackfeet mothers drank
the tea in order to pass its medicinal qualities to their
nursing babies through their milk.
They also administered it
to their children periodically as an enema.
A willow tea was used to
counteract the laxative effect of the chokecherry.
A tea was made from the
boiled bark of the chokecherry, mixed with roots of the
Western Sweet Cicely, Northern Valerian, and Sixocasim and
The fruit is very
astringent or puckery which gives the “choke” part of its
It is highly valued by
cabinet-makers for this wood, which is compact,
fine-grained, susceptible of polish, and of a light red tint
which deepens with age.
from the resin is antiseptic, diuretic, rubefacient and
glycosides, particularly prunasin.
Also tannins, gallic acid,
resin, hydrocyanic acid.
Wild cherry is an
astringent tonic to
the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts with sedative
actions on the nervous and circulatory systems. The
turpentine from the resin is a valuable remedy used
internally in the treatment of kidney and bladder complaints
and is used both internally and as a rub and steam bath in
the treatment of rheumatic affections. It is also very
beneficial to the respiratory system and so is useful in
treating diseases of the mucous membranes and respiratory
complaints such as coughs, colds, influenza and TB. The bark
is used for the feverish stages of viral infections, when
there is rapid, shallow breathing and hot, dry membranes.
The bark or root is boiled for stomach inflammations and
acidosis. Externally it is a very beneficial treatment for a
variety of skin complaints, wounds, sores, burns, boils etc
and is used in the form of liniment plasters, poultices,
herbal steam baths and inhalers. An infusion of the leaves
has been used in the treatment of high fevers.
An infusion of the buds
has been used to remove worms from the body. Similar to
The fruit was basic to the
making of pemmican.
For dry coughs and arthritis, take a scant to rounded
teaspoon in water.
Cold infusion, 2-6 fluid ounces
up to 3 times a day..
1 tsp goldenrod leaves
1 tsp wild cherry bark
1 tsp licorice root
1 tsp yerba sante leaves
1 tsp slippery elm bark
2 cups water
3 Tbsp corn syrup
Place the above
herbs in a pan and cover with the water.
Bring the mixture to a
boil and boil for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool.
Strain the solution and
add the sugar and the corn syrup. Place back on the heat,
bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium.
Cook until the mixture
reaches 300F (hard-crack stage).
Pour the syrup onto a
large, buttered baking sheet; cool, then break into one-inch
pieces. Use as you would any cough drop.
General Illness Tonic
1 tsp wild cherry bark
1 tsp red willow bark
1 tsp wild cherry root
1 tsp red willow root
4 cups water
Combine the herbs
in a pan and cover with the water. Bring to a boil and boil
for 30 minutes; strain and cool.
Take one to two
tablespoons at a time, as needed.
Indians drank this decoction for any type of sickness.
The wood, sawdust and resins from various species of pine
can cause dermatitis in sensitive people.
Do not gather before
midsummer, as prussic acid may be present in the bark
earlier, and the herb will be overly depressing to
A tan or green dye is obtained
from the needles.
The needles contain a substance called terpene, this
is released when rain washes over the needles and it has a
negative effect on the germination of some plants, including
wheat. The wood
is coarse-grained, light, soft, weak and brittle, durable in
contact with the soil. It weighs 33lb per cubic foot. It is
used mainly for pulp and occasionally as lumber in rough
construction or as a fuel.
½ pot wild cherry bark
1 lb alum-mordanted wool
Either soak the bark overnight or boil for longer
Strain out the plant material, and add enough water to make
up the 4 gallons.
Heat the wool so that there will be no sudden
temperature change to cause it to shrink.
Enter it in to the dye ooze and stir.
Simmer it for ¾ hour, or so.
Cool and rinse till the water runs clear. Color: rosy
tan; with chrome: slightly deeper tan.
1 pot wild cherry leaves
1 lb alum – or chrome-mordanted wool
Boil the leaves in the usual way and put the wet,
warm premordanted wool into the dye ooze.
Simmer it for ¾ hour or so or until you like the
color. Cool and
rinse. Tin with
any fruit tree leaf gives off toxic fumes and should be done
with alum: golden yellow, with chrome: tobacco gold.
Seed - raw or cooked. Rich in oil
with a resinous flavor. The seed is very small.
A vanillin flavoring is obtained as a by-product of
other resins that are released from the pulpwood.
A tea is made from the leaves. To remove pits, cook
the berries (with sugar if not making a recipe), then strain
the mixture through a sieve to separate the syrup from the
Wild Cherry Soup
5 cups cherries, washed and
1 ¼ cups water
1 inch cinnamon bark
1 ¼ cups red wine
a little dried mashed
Place the cherries, water, cinnamon, and lemon zest
in a saucepan, bring the mixture to a boil, and cook over
high heat, covered, for 10 minutes.
Then transfer the lot to a blender and purée.
Combine the wine and the cherry mixture, and thicken
to taste with the mashed potato.
Sweeten as necessary, reheat, and serve at once.
Wild Cherry Wine
10 cups cherries
6 cups sugar
grated rind and juice of 1 ½ lemons
1 ½ tsp yeast
Pick the cherries when they are really ripe, then
de-stem and wash them.
Bring 3 quarts of the water to a boil, place the
cherries in a bucket, and pour the boiling water over them.
When they have cooled, mash them with your hands.
Allow them to stand, covered with a cloth, for 3
days, then squeeze them through a wine bag.
Place the liquid in a fermentation jar.
Make up a syrup with the remaining quart of water and
the sugar, then add it to the cherry juice in the
Start the yeast and add it to the wine.
Fit an airlock and leave for 3 months, then siphon
the wine into a clean jar and keep it for another 3-4 months
Stem about 4 lbs of fully ripened
Place them in a kettle with enough water to barely cover the
Cover and cook for 15 or 20 minutes. Strain the juice
through a jelly bag or a double thickness of cheesecloth. In
a large kettle, combine 3 cups of the chokecherry juice with
6 ½ cups of sugar and stir to mix. Bring to a boil over high
heat, stirring constantly.
Stir in 1 bottle of liquid fruit pectin and bring to
a full rolling boil, stirring constantly.
Boil hard, while stirring, until the jelly stage is
the jelly from the heat.
Stir, and skim off the foam.
Add ¼ tsp of almond extract. Seal the jelly in hot,
Makes 9 half-pints.
(The Wild Flavor)
Make a puree of
cored, unpeeled apples and ripe chokecherries by cooking the
fruits separately until tender in small amounts of water.
Put the cooked fruits through a food mill.
Measure out 4 cups of apple puree and 2 cups of
Stir and heat combined fruits to a boil, then add 5
cups of sugar, lower the heat, and continue cooking and
stirring until the butter is thickened.
Add ½ tsp almond extract to make the cherry flavor4
stronger, or spice lightly with cinnamon and nutmeg, to
taste. Pour the
butter into hot, sterilized jars and seal.
Makes 8 half-pints.
Serve with meats or game or on hot bread. (The Wild
Dyeing the Natural Way,
Frances E. Mustard, Greatlakes Living Press, 1977; ISBN:
Michael Moore, Red Crane Books, 1990; ISBN: 1-878610-06-6
Medicinal Wild Plants of the
Kindscher, University Press of Kansas; 1992; ISBN: 0-7006-0527-4
Secret Native American Herbal
Remedies, Anthony J
Cichoke, Avery Books, 2001; ISBN: 1-58333-100-X
The Wild Flavor,
Marilyn Kluger, Henry Holt, 1984; ISBN: 0-8050-1330-X
Roger Phillips, Little, Brown and Company, 1986; ISBN:
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