Sep 012009

This is for the September blogparty, hosted by Henriette, with the theme of Herbs Don’t Read Books!

Open the herbal book nearest to you, pretty much ANY herb book. Find the section on wild cherry or chokecherry, if there is one. Now check out the contradictions or warnings. It will almost certainly command you in very authoritative tones to NEVER EVER, NOT EVER consume cherry leaves or YOU WILL SURELY DIE. Poisonous, toxic, and perhaps outright evil, we are forbidden to ever partake in any communion with the leaves of any cherry species at all.

I’ve always thought this particular herbal rule was pretty strange, considering we use the bark of the cherry to good effect and in general, bark tends to be more toxic and stronger than leaves. So every time I gathered chokecherry bark in late summer, I would sadly discard the leaves from all my branches, inwardly mourning all that loss of perfectly yummy smelling plant matter.

So a few years ago a I started tincturing and making elixir from the flowering tips of Chokecherry branches, including flower, leaf and twig. This makes for an amazing medicine, that works wonderfully as a relaxant, cooling nervine as well as being overall cooling digestive tonic and anti-spasmodic, among other things.

More recently, when gathering Chokecherry twigs, I decided I just couldn’t throw away those leaves anymore. So I took three fresh, medium sized glossy green leaves and tossed them into a small teacup of hot water. I let them steep for about five minutes and then took a sniff. Wow, heavenly! Aromatic and sweet smelling and very almondy/cherry. I added a bit of honey and a splash of cream before taking a tentative taste. My thought was that if it was bitter and cyanide like I would immediately discard it, since cyanide does have a very distinctive and unpleasant taste. However, much to my very pleasant surprise, the tea was incredibly sweet, aromatic and all around heavenly. I proceeded to drink the whole cup with great relish. I then sat on the floor of our cabin and tried to feel how the plant was effecting my body. Hmm, slightly slowed but strengthened heart rate, definitely calming, muscular relaxation, digestive stimulation. Nice. Totally typical of Chokecherry bark.

It was so yummy I dried a bunch of leaves and started drinking it every night. Pretty soon Loba was drinking it too, we especially like it combined with Peach leaf and Rose petal. Next, Rhiannon, our resident nine year old Cherry fanatic, started drinking it too. Still, no problem, except that it was so relaxing as to deter me from my normal hyperactive work pace, which, upon considerations, might not actually be problem after all.

So I asked around on some herbal forums, most notably the Herbwifery forum, to see if anyone else drank Cherry leaf tea or used the leaves medicinally. Turns out at least one other very dependable herbalist (the Appalachian Herbwife herself,  Rebecca Hartman) who not only drinks the tea but uses cherry leaves in pickle making.

Since then, a whole slew of friends (off and online) have tried out this tasty experiment and found it to be incredibly tasty and wonderful. You can use just the leaves, or perhaps more efficiently, a combo of leaves and twigs. Flowers are lovely as well, but of course only available fresh for a short time. If you have a plethora of trees though, you could always dry a nice amount of the flower. I tend to use all mine up for my Chokecherry Elixir.

Medicinally, it has pretty much the same properties as Chokecherry bark, except that it is a more pronounced nervine and has slightly less affinity for the lungs, and slightly more for the GI/Liver. It makes a nice wash for many inflammatory skin condition, especially where the skin looks “cherry red” (thanks to Matt Wood for that indication) or scarlet and very hot and irritated.

The only real danger seems to be ingesting wilted or rotten leaves that can indeed cause all sorts of problems. In short, don’t eat rotten leaves! It’s a bad idea in any plant and in some plants it can be a serious danger (Melilotus, Rubus, Prunus, Rose etc) so be sure to only use herbs that look healthy and if dried, are very similar to how they would appear in their fresh state. I also wouldn’t recommend drinking a gallon of the tea at a time, but it’s likely you’d pass out from sleepiness by then anyway.

Note: Many domestic Cherry trees don’t seem to have any aromatics and thus no taste (besides a sense of bland to slightly bitter astringency) as tea. It’s easy to check and see if your tree will make tasty tea or good medicine by scratching the bark of branch with your fingernail and sniffing. The stronger it smells the more strongly it will act and taste. 

Here’s a few ideas on how to make up some tasty beverage teas with Chokecherry leaves, although they’re quite lovely all on their own as well.

Cherry Deluxe 

  • 1 Part Chokecherry Leaves
  • 1 Part Rose Petals
  • 2 Parts Peach Leaves
  • Honey and Cream to taste.

Spiced Cherry

  • 1 Part Chokecherry Leaves
  • 2 Parts Tulsi
  • 5 Cardamom Pods
  • Honey and Cream to taste.

Mountain Bark  Brew

  • 1 Part Chokecherry Leaves & Twigs
  • 1 Part Sassafras Root
  • 1 Part Black/Yellow Birch Bark
  • Honey and Cream to taste. Also great iced.

  22 Responses to “Herbs Don’t Read Books: Cherry Leaf Tea”

  1. Love it –love it!

  2. Kiva, lovely post.
    So you use the fresh/just picked as well as dried? I have made my elixirs with the inclusion of leaves except when I did one with students in the early spring (just to be sure), they all taste incredible, no sign of harsh bitterness at all. The tincture I have from you is the most perfumey of them. I’ve used P. serotina, p. virginiana, and a wild plum variety. all wonderful and extremely good on the heart! I’m totally in love with them. I love how Tommie Bass says “Don’t call yourself an Herbalist until you’ve used wild cherry 100 different ways” or some such phrase. LOL.

    Thank you for your time with cherry and for sharing it!

  3. Thanks!

    Yep, I sometimes use fresh and sometimes use dried, just depends on what’s around and what’s convenient. Ooh, we have wild plum here too that I use for asthma and lung stuff (as per Tommie) and yes, I love that quote by Tommie. It made me sit and think real hard when I first read it, it really told me I was under-utilizing this common yet precious plant!

  4. huh… Botany in a Day, page 103:
    “…cyanide is easily destroyed by heat, sunlight and oxygen.”

    worth considering!

  5. OK sorry about the irony of quoting from a book for this post. lol

  6. Yeah, I always understood that it was the WILTED leaves that were the baddies. The horse people around North Florida curse the beautiful cherry trees that grow in abundance along the fence lines because they drop branches that then wilt and can kill a horse (prolly a human, too). So in a hot-humid place like here, I’m guessing that careful attention to drying would be important for the leaves.

    But now I realize that I’ve hardly scratched the surface (pun intended) of this tree, and need to explore it a bit more. Off to the fields…

    Cheers, Susan

  7. For anyone interested in reading more about my adventures with Cherry, you can check out my monograph about it here:

  8. kiva, i can’t wait to harvest some leaves, and i can’t believe i haven’t yet since i love peach leaves and rose. i am so glad to hear this side of the cyanide story, thanks!

  9. A much late comment: I’ve just barked off this cherry tree that the utility guys cut today and making tincture and drying some bark. But I’m wondering if I can still use the leaves? It is late in the season, but they are mostly still green with some brown spots. Whaddaya think? Should I get the twigs too? Phew, so much medicine in this one tree…what a gift!

  10. Hey Susan… Definitely the twigs! I would take a few leaves and try making tea, because it seems not all spp have equally tasty leaves for whatever reason, so try ’em out before you spend a lot of time on them.

    Cherry is definitely an incredible gift!

  11. we have some cherry firewood from a recently fallen branch. it is so lovely and aromatic i want to eat it. i shaved some off and have made a tea. it tastes rich and like sweetgrass and a few other subtle flavors. it’s so lovely but i am concerned about the cyanide! i’m going to drink a small cup and see if i die 🙂 i’ll let you know!

    • Hi Lilly, Cherry bark is a well known and widespread medicine, used in countless cough syrups and such, there’s no reason to be concerned with toxicity in such a case. The blog post was referring to the leaves, which are a bit different.

  12. hi! the tea from the inner wood was pink and delicious. i had seen some references to the wood shavings having toxicity, (in relation to animal bedding), but there seems to be conflicting information. sorry to go a little off topic!

  13. I think you’ll probably be fine as long as you’re not a rodent with a chewing habit or spend your life immersed in wood chips. 😉

  14. Hi! I’ve not left comments here before but I’ve been enjoying your blog. I’ve been so delighted to find many useful herbs in my backyard this summer. It’s been great fun for this budding herbalist!! Anyway, we also have a wild cherry tree on our property. We’ve been enjoying it’s fruit for 4 summers, now. The blossoms are beautiful and the fruit is a bright red color on the outside, yellow flesh on the inside, and a bit tart to the taste. I got some twigs and peeled off the bark and its sitting in vodka right now, but here’s the question…it doesn’t particularly smell like almonds. It has a pleasant smell but its not strongly like amaretto or marzipan as it’s described in many places. Is it still okay for medicine?

    • Do you know what species of Prunus you have? When it comes to Prunus spp., including both Peach and Cherry, it seems that some of the medicine, probably most especially the nervine and anti-spasmodic effects, is tied to the aromatics… Which is not to say that your tree is not worth using, but that if a tea or tincture has very little flavor or smell, it probably will be weaker, especially in the noted actions. If it tastes very astringent, then it will have astringent effects. If it is aromatic, it will have actions associated with its aromatics etc.,

      It also depends on what time of year you harvest from the tree as to how strong the aromatics will be, as well as whether it is a hybrid, what exact species, what growing conditions etc.,

      • Thank you. Not sure of the exact species. I gathered the twigs from new growth at the ends of smaller branches this past weekend. Maybe it was a tad early as the leaves are all pretty green still. Our neighbor has a different species (a wild black cherry as opposed to our red one), so maybe I’ll ask if I can take a few twigs from their tree, make up a tincture and compare.

      • Well, I’ve been searching and I found a young black cherry in the woods with reachable lower branches and the bark smelled like almond extract!! Excitedly, I gathered a few small branches and made a great jar full of twigs and bark in rum. It smells heavenly.

  15. wow sounds delicious

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