May 252008

So I’ve been working with Western Chokecherry (that would be Prunus virginiana L. var. demissa, though most Cherries seem to work in a nearly identical way) flowers, leaves and bark this spring in a tincture. Now yes, I can hear the protests already. I too have read all those herb books that say to never ever ingest the cherry leaf any which way or you’ll die. And more specifically, that you should only use the dried bark that has been collected in fall. I’ve used fresh bark tincture from spring and I’ve been eating the leaves and flowers all spring and I’m not dead yet, nor have I noticed any adverse effects whatsoever. It probably would be unwise to eat a pile a leaves for breakfast, but you know, considering the taste, I don’t think you’d manage it anyhow.

What I have noticed is the very calming nervine effect I get from nibbling the leaves or flowers. Similar to the bark of course, but I think it’s a bit stronger in the flowers. It borders on euphoric but is not noticeably sedating. It’s quite the mood enhancer and carries over well to the tincture. The tincture of the flower, leaves and bark together smells similar to that of Peach, and stronger than that made just with Cherry bark. The scent is, as expected, very much like a very strong tasting cherry or almond extract. The inner bark tastes sweet, slightly bitter and strongly aromatic. The flowers are sweet, astringent and have that somewhat overripe smell that Hawthorn flowers also have. The leaves are astringent, bitter and somewhat aromatic.

I have not used the tincture in large dosages, having found 1-10 drops to be quite sufficient thus far. I have given my seven year old daughter five drop doses as a treatment for feeling overheated, irritated and exhausted. She has had no adverse effects from the dose, and feels that it helps her feel relaxed and not so irritable and tired, she also says quite emphatically that it helps with her growing pains.

The bark has long been recognized as a specific for those with cardiac weakness, especially when accompanied by a chronic cough, palpitations, high blood pressure, digestive impairment and signs of heat and irritation from weakness. I’d venture to say that the flowers perform these functions, and then some. I’ve noticed that wild cherry flowers can sometimes elicit the same minor but noticeable momentary irregular heartbeat that Hawthorn does in some people. Clients have often been able to feel an immediate slowing or smoothing in their pulse. Very relaxing, verging on euphoric in sensitive individuals. An excellent nervine for use in cases of grief, broken-heartedness and hysteria. I have found a few drops of the tincture useful in stopping my own heart palpitations on occasion, and also notice the steadying and slowing of the pulse.

While in the village recently, I found myself without access to good water, and attempted to buy some bottled water from one of those big soda spewing vending machines. Instead of giving me the proper plain water, it gave me a berry flavored water instead. I was skeptical, and checked out the ingredients which included sucralose and other weird chemicals. But I was thirsty, and not interested in paying another dollar to get more water so I chugged half of it anyhow. Within 15 minutes I was having significant heart palpitations. I haven’t had much in the way of palpitations for years, but as a teen and in my early twenties every bit of anxiety, bad food or sleeplessness would trigger tachycardia. It’s always started by a sudden movement, usually standing up or sitting down too quickly. My normally too low blood pressure will suddenly sky rocket, the world will be buzzy and full of spots, my chest will hurt and my heart will amp up to light speed.

They usually last anywhere from 15-45 minutes. The worst part is when they stop, they usually cease quite suddenly with my heart feeling like it hits a wall, stops for a second then resumes normal pace. During the stop, my blood pressure plummets and I often black out at least for a few seconds. In my late teens, I more than once completely passed out at the end of an episode of palpitations. So when this happened the other day, I really really wanted to avoid that sudden stop at the end of the fall and I dug through my bag looking for some herb to help. I happened to grab Chokecherry tincture and took five drops under my tongue. Immediately, only three minutes into the palpitations, my heart gently slowed to normal and my blood pressure evened out without even a hint crashing. I didn’t even get all hypoglycemic and weak afterwards. I promptly threw away the rest of the bottle of flavored water stuff.

I’ve long felt that Cherry and Rose both have a profound influence upon the heart, and have been delighted to find some literature that backs up my intuitive sense. Tommie Bass considered Wild Cherry to be a wonderful treatment for heart problems of any kind (as well as one of the most important liver herbs he knew of, along with Red Oak). Matthew Wood has asserted that the Native Americans made use of the tree for all sorts of heart problems, and says that:

“Wild Cherry should be seen primarily as a cardio-vascular remedy… The flavor is a pleasant blend of sweet and bitter, the temperature is both warm and cool, and the impression is astringent. The combination of warm and cool is very rare; it emphasizes the relationship to febrile and circulatory processes. Wild Cherry bark acts upon the cardio-vascular system, equalizing the circulation and reducing the irritation and congestion which would encumber the heart. The combination of sweet and bitter indicates a remedy that is especially nutritive, as both these flavors stimulate the secretions of the mouth, stomach and digestive system. Bitterness is associated with the heart and circulation as well, since it reduces irritation and fever. The nourishing influence indicated by the sweet flavor is directed, as it were, towards the heart. This is joined by the astringency, which also tones up the heart. Prunus serotina not only reduces irritation but nourishes, tonifies and strengthens the heart muscle. It also acts upon the digestive system, stimulating the appetite, promoting secretions, calming irritation and tightening and toning the mucous membranes…

“Wild Cherry equalizes the circulation, removing tendencies to hot and cold and excitation and exhaustion. It is valuable when there is irritation and excessive ardour of the pulse. It is also beneficial when there is feebleness, deficiency and intermittency of the pulse, usually found in chronic cases where the heart is exhausted. The cold infusion was long used as a remedy for irregular, intermittent action of the heart, with deficient pulse.

“Wild Cherry is the American Indian version of Crataegus (Hawthorn), which is also a member of the Prunaceae family used in heart and digestive problems.”

Another quote by Finley Ellingwood also illustrated how highly Cherry has been regarded as a medicine for the heart:

“Wild cherry is popular in the treatment of mild cases of palpitation, especially those of a functional character, or from reflex causes. Palpitation from disturbed conditions of the stomach is directly relieved by it. It is said to have a direct tonic influence upon the heart when the muscular structure of that organ is greatly weakened, when there is dilation or valvular insufficiency, especially if induced by prolonged gastric or pulmonary disease.

“As a remedy for dyspepsia it has many advocates. It is a tonic for the stomach improving digestion by stimulating the action of the gastric glands. It soothes irritability of the stomach from whatever cause. Although the properties of a nerve sedative are not ascribed to this agent, general nervous irritation is soothed by it administration, nervous irritability of the stomach and of the respiratory organs is allayed and a tonic influence is imparted to the central nervous system.”

I haven’t yet had time to use Cherry in any long term cardiac cases, but I have high hopes for it. I don’t recommend subjecting Cherry bark or any other part to heat for any reason. If you want to make an infusion, try making a cold infusion over a period of a few hours. This is also an excellent belly soother as well, as I mentioned in a previous post and as Darcey Blue confirmed with her personal experience. That said, Tommie Bass was reknowned for his Cherry Tonic, in which he boiled the bark for a good amount of time, and that still seemed to work. I definitely prefer the taste of the non-heated preparations though.

I’d be most pleased to hear from anyone else working with Cherry flowers for any reason, and also from those who are using Cherry as a heart remedy.

  10 Responses to “Notes on the Cherry-Heart Connection”

  1. Did you tincture the flowers Kiva? If so, what menstruum did you use?

  2. Yep — flowers, leaves and bark. I like to do Peach and Cherry tinctures in brandy, but this time I ended up using a 100 proof vodka. I don’t particularly like high proof tinctures of this particular plant, seems to take some of the sweetness out of it.

  3. gosh this is lovely to find as i recently saw your photos of your chokecherry that i got on my e-mail. i remeber thinking straight away that the flowers and its demeanour reminded me of the glorious hawthorn which has been just holding its arms out all over england the last few weeks! it marks my favourite time of our year – the beltain and fertitlity time where things are coming to a new bursting here! hawthorn is one of my dearest herbal friends, but not having used wild cherry apart from a brief aquaintance during the herbal course, i hadn’t really looked closely at its flowers or got to know them very personally! i only really thought of using prunus as a cough supressant (as i say, it is not a herb i developed as yet relationship with!) so is wonderful to read so much about its connection to the heart. thank you so much! i don’t know if you have an abundance of hawthorn where you are, but i took a couple of pictures of the ones near me when i was collecting earlier this month. the light amongst them was amazing and while i am certainly not experienced or equiped with a decent camera these little camera snaps came out quite beautifully. i can e-mail them if you would like to see a bit of recent heaven here! i feel hawhtorn is very important for people in this country (i don’t know about elsewhere) but there always feels that hawthorn is crying out from every hedgerow to raise the spirit and offer something to the collective elements affecting spirit in our culture. i use it a lot purposely in combination with rose, as the 2 complement energetic input to the heart centre – i feel a more stronly masculine pull from hawthorn, more feminine from rose – the mars/venus thing entwined. i made a lovely syrup with a fresh flower mega strong infusion, a little rish, red tincture and at the end some rosewater. anway enough!
    i am now aware of chokeberry – another great introduction from your site and e-mails. it is so lovely to receive all your lovely photos, experiences of plants and advice. it is great to share knowledge with herbalists at work and truly living thier plant dreams so far away – hope i can one day be in a position to have even more time to develop relationship with plants and use them even more fully.
    love and thanks

  4. o – hawthorn is also much nicer preserved in brandy too i think, but can be drunk as a great yummy liquer esp with a tiny bit of sugar syrup to finish the brandy off! my partner desperately needs peach medicine but short of buying the fruit and using the oil we not yet found a peach tree or anyone here with peach supplies! again not a plant commonly used in herbal medicine in the circles i trained in which seems a shame!

  5. […] ChokeCherry (Prunus virginiana) – Cool, dry – Bark, flowers – Sweet, aromatic, bitter […]

  6. Kiva, is the quote from Matthew from one his books? You do us great service in this website.

  7. Thanks Sidney 🙂 – I believe it’s from an unpublished book or article by Matthew, though I can’t find it right this moment.

  8. Kiva,
    You are as brave as the first woman to spy her moldy forgotten soybeans, cook it up, call it tempeh and pronounce it delicious. It takes a certain personality to question a truth held by most every book, resource and herbalist. Seriously, there is so much confusion about the cyanide compounds in Prunus spp. and I am always scouring my resources and coming up more unsure. I am wondering, after reading your accounts of cherry- leaf- drinking, if much of the concern over the leaves toxicity (along with the fresh spring bark) comes from extrapolating from the poisoning of livestock. Lisa Ganora explains that humans have a lower stomach pH than ruminants, which lessens the conversion of cyanogenic glycoside into the more toxic hydrocyanic acid. Apparently (I have not looked into the sources) children have become ill after chewing on green twigs or chewing pits. The bark certainly loses a good bit of its aroma after drying, and I know a good number of students who have forgotten the dry your bark first admonishments and have made fresh bark tincture and used it without harm. Still, I wonder if the warnings about Cherry come from observed human toxicity with moderate medicinal doses, or just a natural extrapolation from seeing other animals die after eating cherry.
    I am glad there are the brave herbalists such as yourself to question such strongly held truths.

    • Thanks, Juliet! I’ve been using the leaves/flowers/fresh twigs clinically and for myself/family for several years now and haven’t seen an issues thus far. I also tend toward smaller doses in general, but lots of beverage tea of the cherry as well. If you way overdo the tea (several cups) or chew on a LOT of twig, it’s possible to get nauseous and sleepy though.

  9. Hi Kiva,

    So glad you wrote this post because I just tinctured chokecherry flowers this spring as guided and have not found much information on the internet. I have not used mine yet as we had a very late spring but I”m excited to see what the results will be regarding ingestion and meditation. Will let you know!!!

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>