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Prunus serotina


Prunus serotina


No documentation

Vernacular Name

Wild Cherry, Black cherry, Native cherry, Black choke, Choke cherry, Wild black cherry


Prunus serotina grows to heights of up to 30m tall with a branching spread of 10m. It produces white flowers in June which result in small, bitter-sweet fruit in August. The tree is very hardy in colder climates and has been found as far south as Texas.(1)

Origin / Habitat

P. serotina is a deciduous tree that is native to Canada, spreading down through the eastern part of the United States.

Chemical Constituents

Cyanogenic glycosides (prunasin), Volatile oil, Coumarins, Gallitannins, Resin. (2)

Plant Part Used

Bark and fruit. (3) (10)

Traditional Use

P. serotina has had numerous uses common to many Native American tribes but was most frequently used to treat a variety of upper respiratory infections and throat disorders.  Preparations for these treatments vary by tribe but are consistent in plant part used and application. However, the chemical makeup of the bark differs from spring to fall and therefore some of the differences in preparations may be due to these chemical changes.

To treat tuberculosis or other ailments accompanied by cough, an infusion, decoction or cough syrup was made from the bark and used by the Cherokee,(3) Iroquois,(4) Mahuna,(5) Malecite,(6) Micmac,(7) Ojibwa,(8) Penobscot(9) and Rappahannock(4) tribes of North America. In order to treat the common cold, an infusion or decoction made of the bark was used by Native American tribes including the Cherokee,(3) Iroquois,(4) Malecite,(6) Micmac,(7) Mohegan,(10) Narrangset,(10) Ojibwa,(8) Rappahannock and Shinnecock.(10) Many of the tribes that use P. serotina bark to suppress cough and alleviate colds used the same preparations and methods to reduce fever.

The people of the Cherokee,(3) Mohegan and Shinnecock(10) tribes use the fruit of P. serotina in an infusion (prepared by either boiling allowed to stand) as a gastrointestinal aide for treatment of general complaints. The Cherokee used the fruit in various preparations to treat bloody stool while the Mohegan’s used the fermented fruit to treat diarrhea.(11)



Dosages vary by tribe, preparation and use. Infusions are made with from 1-3g raw powdered bark in boiling water taken 1-2 times per day.



P. serotina is found today in many cough preparations in which it is marketed as an expectorant,(12) but there is limited scientific support for the other traditional uses mentioned above. In one laboratory study, P. serotina was found to have anti-inflammatory properties due to its ability to reduce cyclin D1 expression.(13)


No documentation

Interaction and Depletions

Interaction with other Herbs

No documentation

Interaction with Drugs

No documentation

Precautions and Contraindications

Side effects

Generally considered safe when used as directed.

Not for long term use.


Not to be used with pregnant or nursing women unless directed by a physician.

Age limitation

No documentation

Adverse reaction

No documentation

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  1)  Western Herbs


  1. Culbreth MR. A manual of materia medica and pharmacology. Lea Brothers & Co. Publishing; 1929.
  2. Power FB. On the constituents of Wild Cherry Bark. Proceedings of the American association for the advancement of science. 1888;36:121-126.
  3. Hamel, Paul B, Mary U. Chiltoskey. Cherokee plants and their uses - a 400 year history. Sylva, N.C.: Herald Publishing Co.; 1975.
  4. Moerman DE. Native American Ethnobotany. Portland OR: Timber Press; 2009.
  5. Romero JB. The botanical lore of the California Indians. New York: Vantage Press Inc.; 1954.
  6. Mechling WH. The Malecite Indians with notes on the Micmacs. Anthropologica. 1959;8:239-263.
  7. Chandler RF, Freeman L, Hooper SN. Herbal remedies of the Maritime Indians. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 1979;1:49-68.
  8. Smith HH. Ethnobotany of the Ojibwe Indians. Bulletin of the Public Museum of Milwaukee. 1932;4:327-525.
  9. Speck, Frank G. Medicine practices of the Northeastern Algonquians. Proceedings of the 19th International Congress of Americanists; 1917.
  10. Carr LG, Westey C. Surviving folktales & herbal lore among the Shinnecock Indians. Journal of American Folklore. 1945;58:113-123.
  11. Moerman DE. Native American medicinal plants: an ethnobotanical dictionary. Timber Press; 2009.
  12. CAS Information, FDA: Everything Added to Food in the United States (EAFUS).
  13. Yamaguchi K. Anti-proliferative effect of horehound leaf and wild cherry bark extracts on human colorectal cancer cells. Oncol Rep. 2006 Jan;15(1):275-281.

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