Choke Cherry

(Prunus virginiana) An American species that is cultivated in Mexico and central America. The cherry is small, black and bitter (hence Choke Cherry, presumably). Birds often get drunk eating them. However, the cherries are quite useful - country people infuse them in brandy as a flavouring (Lloyd), and native Americans used them as food; the Ojibwe used to pound them, stones and all, and dried them to store as food (Densmore). The bark is slightly narcotic, making the user a little drowsy, and its sedative qualities gave it quite a reputation in America, in dyspepsia and tuberculosis (Lloyd). The Indians made a tea from this bark for diarrhoea (HH Smith. 1923), or any stomach ailment. Apparently, the bark was also used in the treatment of syphilis (Lloyd). However the kernels are as poisonous as those of the rest of the genus, and children have been known to die after eating them (Tampion) - it is the cyanide content that causes the damage. The root, too, has been used - Blackfoot Indians chewed the dried root, which was then put into a wound to stop the bleeding (Johnston). Eating half a cupful of these cherries each day was reckoned to cure gout (Tyler).

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