Wild Black Cherry

Prunus serotina

Herbs gallery - Wild Black Cherry

Common names

  • Ajamoda
  • Black Cherry
  • Black Choke
  • Caban Cherry
  • Choke Cherry
  • Padmaka
  • Rub Cherry
  • Virginia Prune
  • Wild Black Cherry

Wild black cherry is found abundantly in the Americas and grows extensively from Nova Scotia to Florida and the trees may be found as far in the west up to Dakotas, Utah and even Arizona. The wild black cherry trees are well timbered and grow up to the height of 80 feet. The tree has a solid middle trunk at the base and is covered with leafy branches at the top. These branches are more long than broad. When branches of black cherry are young and growing they are fleshy and green in color, but as they mature they turn into reddish brown and become timbered. However, the barks of bigger branches are even and reddish brown. The air apertures or lenticels of these barks are noticeably white in color and compressed. On more mature trees, the bark is coarse and turns into brownish black color.

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Leaves are formed alternatively on smaller branches and twigs and the blades of these leaves, measuring up to six inches long and two inches in width, are found in different shapes - ovate, narrowly ovate or lanceolate-ovate. The leaves are also slightly indented along the edges and often with inward curvatures. The top plane of all the leaves is green and fleshy, while the color in the lower surface is light green. The lower surface of the leaves is also fleshy and at times there are delicate hairs along its main vein. The tilt of every leaf blade is slim and sharp, while they are curved or wedge-like in shape at the foundation. The thin petioles of the black cherry leaves are up to one inch in length and each petiole has a couple of minute nectaries close to the leaf blade.

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The short leafy branches of wild back cherry bear stretched out racemes of flowers that are either rising, broadly scattered or most often descending pattern. Each of these racemes is between four inches to six inches long and thickly cram with black cherry flowers. Diagonally, each flower is half an inch and comprises five white petals, five green sepals, 15-22 stamens and a pistil in the center with a compressed stigma. The petals of black cherry flowers are ovate-shaped and comparatively more elongated than the sepals. Black cherry flowers blossom between late spring and early summer and they remain for around two to three weeks. Each fruit is later reinstated by a round plump fruit that measures around one third inch crossways. Young fruits are green in color, but they transform into dark red and ultimately into a purple-black color when they mature during the autumn. Each black cherry drupe comprises a solitary seed with an even exterior. The fleshy tissues of a ripened black cherry are sweet and somewhat bitter to taste. Incidentally, the root system of black cherry is a timbered taproot and the tree multiplies by re-seeding itself.

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Parts used

Inner bark, leaves.

Uses

The Anglo-Americans traditionally use the bark of the wild black cherry to effectively cure a number of ailments, including chronic dry and prickly coughs. Black cherry bark also finds mention in the official pharmaceutical uses. Blended with coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), black cherry bark is beneficial in treating asthma and whooping cough too. Black cherry bark is caustic by nature and can be used to relieve patients from indigestion and problems related to irritable bowel syndrome. It is particularly helpful when the ailments are related to the nervous system.

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The inner bark as well as the leaves of wild black cherry enclose a cyanide amalgam with almond-like scent and were earlier used by herbalist in cough remedies and lotions. Although to some extent black cherries taste bitter, they are edible and find widespread use in jelly and wine production and also to add essence to brandy. When rum or brandy is flavored with black cherry it is known as 'cherry bounce'. While all species of the wildlife consume cherries, the songbirds in particular savor them. In fact, herbivores like rabbits and deer like to thrive on black cherry saplings and plantlets. Hence, where ever there the population of rabbits and deer are in large numbers, it often becomes difficult to cultivate black cherries as they often prove to be detrimental for the growth of the plant. The wood of black cherries is reddish brown in color and closely crumbed, but solid beyond doubt. Black cherry wood is especially used to manufacture furniture, thin coverings, handles of tools and is among the best timber available for cabinets.

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Other medical uses

Habitat and cultivation

Wild black cherry, also known as Prunus serotina, is widespread all through the eastern part of North America stretching from southern Canada to central Florida. The species can also be found in abundance in the stretch ranging from west to Minnesota to the eastern part of Texas. Black cherry also grows naturally at higher altitudes in New Mexico and Arizona as well as all along south from Mexico to Guatemala. In Europe, people cultivate the black cherry for its hard timber. The species grows best on damp and luxuriant soils, but can been seen flourishing almost in any forest and even along the roadside or in deserted fields near the forest land. The bark of the wild black cherry, which is of significant herbal importance, is collected during late summers or early winters. The most common way by which the black cherry seeds are propagated is by birds and hence it is natural to find the saplings in plentiful beneath the utility wires on the highways or along the fencings, which are used by the birds to perch on. Normally, wild black cherry forms a part of mixed forests or enclosures around buildings or houses, the species may also be found as wholesome stands.

Here is a piece of advice. If someone desires to plant a wild black cherry in his premises, care should be taken to position it at a distance from the walks and roadways. If grown in its natural habitat, wild black cherry trees can withstand droughts as its roots go deep down and can spread over a large volume of soil. However, the tree does not thrive well and the growth too is poor when it is planted in limited soil spaces like it is typically done in the urban areas.

For better yields, black cherry should normally be cultivated in an area where there is full sunlight or limited shadow. Even the soil needs to be loosened and it should be ensured that the tree does not receive excessive heat or congestion from grasses. Notwithstanding the fact that the trees are capable of enduring considerable parched situations, the best conditions to grow black cherry include luxuriant and damp soil that contains intense mulch to keep the root area calm and unruffled. It is also important to remember that once the plants are placed in one place, they should not be disturbed as black cherry has a low  root system that is vulnerable to harm from anything that could be heaped, accumulated or placed within the range of its watering system or even somewhat away from it. As mentioned earlier, black cherry seeds are normally spread by birds and other wildlife restricting their propagation to a limited area. It may be noted here that black cherry is vulnerable to several insects, including the eastern tent caterpillar, fall webworm and other chewing pests, and it is essential that the trees are protected from these.

Constituents

Black cherry contains prunasin (a cyanogenic glycoside that yields hydrocyanic acid), benzaldehyde, eudesmic acid, coumarins, and tannins. Prunasin reduces the cough reflex.

Usual dosage

Many people take wild black cherry in the form of tincture or syrup, using 2-4 ml  3 - 4 times daily.

Side effects and cautions

Wild black cherry is reported to be a very safe herbal medicine. But there are some drawbacks too. Although clinical examinations are yet to ascertain this aspect, hypothetically consuming very large quantities of black cherry may lead to cyanide poisoning as the inner bark as well as the leaves of wild black cherry encloses a cyanide compound.

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