Nature's Medicinal Gift - Chokecherry

Nature's Medicinal - Chokecherry (Prunus Virginiana)We see them growing in the shelterbelts, along the road side and in many farm yards across North America.  Here at My Boreal Homestead, nature has provided me with an abundance of them and for that, I am thankful because I love choke cherries (Prunus Virginiana).  I like them raw, as a jelly and as a syrup over ice cream or pancakes.  But recently, I have learned about the medicinal value of something I have long enjoyed - truly Nature's medicinal gift.

How do chokecherries taste?

There is a reason they are called chokecherries.  When you first put them in your mouth they taste like a mild cherry but soon after they begin to dry your mouth out.  Thus the name.

Are chokecherries poisonous?

The flesh of the chokecherry is not poisonous.  The pit of the chokecherry does contain amygdalin, a product the body converts into cyanide, a deadly poison, after consumption. However, by the time you ate enough to be poisonous, your mouth would be so dry you would not be able to swallow.

How do you use chokecherries?

If you have used chokecherries before, you will need to get them into a form you can use.  Although you can pit the chokecherry for use in pies and such, the small nature of the berry makes this a very onerous task.  So I take the washed chokecherries and put into a pot of water that has them covered by a couple inches.  Bring to a boil and simmer for about 30 minutes.  The boiling of the chokecherries not only extracts the juice from the flesh but also breaks down the amygdalin so that it can not be converted into cyanide.  However, you won't be using the pits so no worries there.  During the simmering I also take my potato masher to help extract the juice.  After the chokecherries have cooked well, I then strain them through a t-towel to extract the juice.  Squeezing the cooled t-towel full of cooked cherries will yield more juice, but it will also make the liquid cloudier.  Personally, I don't care so I squeeze out as much as I can.  But be warned that it will dye your hands and anything else it touches.  The juice is now ready for your favorite jelly, syrup or medicinal syrup.

Can I freeze chokecherries?

Absolutely.  Simply wash in clean water to remove any debris.  Then drain and put in a freezer bag with the contents and date labeled on the bag.  Place in the freezer for later processing. The juice can also be frozen in gallon pails or smaller containers for later processing into various products.  Both will keep for a couple years with no problems.

What are Nature's medicinal gifts of the chokecherry?

The North American Indigenous peoples use to use it in the making of pemmican and from my research it is rich in Antioxidants and vitamins, and, may help with inflammation.   

Choke cherry grows wild in these parts but are also easy to cultivate.  I normally pick 2 -3 gallons a year for winter processing and I have been wondering about its medicinal properties and or benefits.  What I have been thinking is that rather than stretching the reach of growing elderberries, why not use what is here.  

How do Elderberries and Chokecherries compare medicinally?

Generally speaking. elderberry is focused on immune system  boosting antiviral qualities and respiratory. The overlap with the respiratory component is present in chokecherry. They both contain Phenolic Acids, Anthocyanins and Carotenoids making them good berries as an antioxidant. 

But what I found interesting was the vitamins that they contain.  Elderberries contain 

  •  Vitamin A - nutrient important to vision, growth, cell division, reproduction and immunity. Vitamin A also has antioxidant properties
  •  Vitamin C  - antioxidant that helps protect your cells against the effects of free radicals
  •  Calcium 
  •  Vitamin B6 - Vitamin B6 helps maintain a normal amount of this amino acid in your blood. A stronger immune system. Vitamin B6 helps chemical reactions in the immune system, helping it work better. Eating foods rich in vitamin B6 will help your body guard against infection 
  •  Iron 

I found it interesting that chokecherries contain: 

  • Niacin - B vitamin that's made and used by your body to turn food into energy. It helps keep your nervous system, digestive system and skin healthy 
  • Pantothenic Acid - B5 vitamin - helps turn the food you eat into the energy you need.
  • Vitamin B6 - Vitamin B6 helps maintain a normal amount of this amino acid in your blood. A stronger immune system. Vitamin B6 helps chemical reactions in the immune system, helping it work better. Eating foods rich in vitamin B6 will help your body guard against infection 
  • Riboflavin -  important for the growth, development, and function of the cells in your body
  • Thiamin - helps the body generate energy from nutrients - most people get enough from the food they eat
  • Vitamin C -antioxidant that helps protect your cells against the effects of free radicals 
  • Vitamin K - helps to make various proteins that are needed for blood clotting and the building of bones.
  • Choline - nutrient that is found in many foods. Your brain and nervous system need it to regulate memory, mood, muscle control, and other functions. 

I did run across a scientific report that analyzed four berries consumed in Native American tribal diets (Saskatoon, high bush cranberry, chokecherry and buffalo berry) and their findings were equally interesting.  Their results showed that "These results indicate that compounds from P. virginiana have the potential to reduce the development of diabetic microvascular complications and are strong inhibitors of inflammation." 

So are chokecherries really Nature's Medicinal Gift?

what's my conclusion from all of this?  I knew I liked chokecherry for a reason.  Although it may not be a powerhouse as the elderberry is  for immune boosting, chokecherries bring their own set of benefits to the health table. 

Being that chokecherries are "lacking" in a few areas, combining other herbs like garlic could add the missing links.  Onion skins might be a milder option as "the outer skins of onion and garlic provide an excellent source of vitamins A, C, E, and numerous antioxidants. The skins of onions are also a rich source of flavonoids, particularly quercetin, a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.".  If I was to make a tea and sweeten with my homemade chokecherry syrup it might just do the trick.  And of course, once my plants start producing, combining the two berries in the formation of a syrup for the Herbal medicine chest would be optimum.  I don't feel that combining the two berries with similar extraction properties would produce anything that would cause problems with the resulting product. 

But at the end of the day, Nature's Medicinal gift or not, they are still wonderful made into a jelly or a syrup.  I will continue to pick them for those uses and feel blessed for the delicious gift that nature has provided.Nature's Medicinal Gift - chokecherry - alternate use as a jelly