Sour Cherry, Prunus cerasus; Chokecherry, Prunus virginiana; Pin Cherry, Prunus pensylvanica; Black Cherry, Prunus serotia
Without a doubt everyone has eaten something that is cherry flavored. Whether it was a lollipop, a cough drop, syrup, muffins, cake or ice cream I doubt there is anyone who has not tasted the flavor of Cherry at least once. There are many types of edible cherries. The two most common are the sour cherry, Prunus cerasus, and the black cherry, Prunus serotia. These two types of cherries are eaten fresh, used in the manufacture of candy, confections and as a flavor for many medicinal products.
Wild varieties include the pin cherry and choke cherry. The wild species have smaller fruits but are edible and have a medicinal and utilitarian use. All cherries share common traits. First and most importantly the green leaves are highly toxic to grazing animals. Cherries produce hydrogen cyanide in their leaves and stones (pits) of the cherry fruit. Some farmers will clear cut all species of cherries that they find in their pastures. Left on their own the majority of grazers will not voluntarily eat cherry leaves. Wilted leaves are more toxic as decomposition causes the water to evaporate leaving a highly concentrated residue. Dried leaves are not toxic. The stones of cherries also contain the same substance found in the leaves and should not be eaten.
Cherries once pitted, can be canned, dried or used to make fruit leather. Beverages including juice and tea made from the fruit are refreshing and high in Vitamin C. Jelly, jam and breakfast syrup can be made from all varieties of cherries.
Cherry bark is one of the few barks that can be peeled and used to make containers with. Like Birch bark the thin outer layer will peel off during the drying process or after a period of soaking once dried. Unlike Birch, cherry bark has small holes making it unsuitable for boats, rafts or other watercraft. Woodland Indians used cherry bark to make pouches, food containers and other types of storage containers. Bead and quill work were commonly applied to cherry bark containers.
Medicinally, all types of Cherries can be used for coughs, colds and respiratory complaints. Strong tea made from the inner bark can be used to make home made cough drops with. The inner bark and the fruit are astringent. The fruit is very high in Vitamin C. Using a strong decoction as a wash for scratches, wounds and scrapes will prevent infection. It will also cause the tissues to contract which can be useful if the wound is weeping. A poison ivy rash would be a weeping type condition.
Sour cherries ripen in mid to late May while the less domestic ones ripen over the summer and some are not ripe until early fall.
Cherry fruits will produce a gray-green dye while the leaves will produce a green dye. Sap collected from pencil thick or larger stems can be used as a temporary adhesive. This adhesive however is water soluble. Cherry wood is used for curing and smoking meat and tobacco. It is also great for cooking meat over an open fire. Chips of cherry wood are soaked in water for a few hours then placed on the hot coals. The smoke imparts a cherry flavor to the meat. Cherry wood is dense and burns slowly and very hot. The wood is valuable in the making of furniture, cabinetry and flooring.