No doubt you’ve heard of Wild Black Cherry flavoring for everything from cough syrup to chewing gum. Well, this is what it looks like—in bloom. For just a few days each year millions of tiny, nearly perfectly round white petals fall like snow all over my yard and any part of the neighborhood they can reach.
All these flowers produce tiny sour little cherries which later fall all over my car, and birds have their way with the cherries and my car as well. The tree is basically considered a weed since it grows in waste places—and my yard could certainly have been considered a waste place when I moved in here—but I would not give it up unless it became unsafe. This tree was about one-quarter its present size, but I learned what it was and also learned that the berries are favorites of many fruit-eating birds, and ants and other insects live under the bark to be jostled out all winter long by woodpeckers.
The tree is such a haven for birds, I could never consider giving it up, though the branches grow fragile as they get older, and sometimes fall in storms.
I’ve used the juice from the fruit to make juice, jelly and wine, but it’s actually the bark that has the medical properties that makes it such an effective cough suppresant—yes, that’s why cough drops and cough syrup are flavored with wild black cherry. Steeping, not boiling, the inner bark releases a multi-medicinal compound that is anti-tussive and often a mild sedative, though it’s a dangerous dance because part of the medicinal substance released is related to and extracted from the cyanide naturally occurring in the tree’s bark. Native Americans used the berries in their pemmican and drank tea made from the bark for a variety of conditions. I managed to make cough syrup from it and used it, and survived.
While regular cherry trees have lovely blossoms, I’ve often wondered if the “cherries hung with snow” which he rode off to see in the woods were actually wild black cherries in A.E. Housman’s poem “Loveliest of Trees”.