Wild Edibles- Wild Cherries

While walking the dog the other evening, I came across a tree with “berries” on it. Since I’ve been almost obsessed with identifying wild edibles for the better part of this year (truth be told, off and on my entire life), I plucked a sprig from the tree to take home for identification purposes. According to a book I own entitled, “Edible Wild Plants: Eastern/Central America,” it’s a wild cherry by the name of choke cherry. Certainly not an edible sounding name! I’m guessing it got its name due to the cherries being the perfect size to choke on, but I could be wrong.

I decided after reading a bit about the cherries I would sample the ones I brought home and to my delight they were not only edible, but tasty as well! 😀 I remember earlier in the spring when the trees were in bloom thinking to myself, “The flowers on this tree smell so good, I can’t wait to see what it produces. It’s bound to be edible!” I’m so glad I was right on that count.

The Chokecherry has a single pit; it’s a stone fruit like the regular store-bought cherries. When ripe, the fruit will be a dark purplish color. They can be eaten raw; made into jams, jellies, or syrups; made into fruit “leather” or mushed for their juice. With a sweet and sour sort of taste, they do taste similar to their tame cousin, the Bing Cherry. My plan is to wait another week or two as more of the “berries” become ripe, then go picking. After that, I figure I’ll try all of the above ways to prepare it. Oooh, ooh! And pies!!! 😀 Important Note: The fresh seeds contain cyanide and should NOT be eaten.

Once a common food source to the Native American peoples and early colonists, I found it surprising that this little fruit has become neglected over the generations because many people think they’re poisonous. According to http://www.wildfoods.info/wildfoods/chokecherry.html, “The fruit was collected by the Pawnee, Omaha, Osage, Kiowa, Assiniboin, Dakota, Lakota, Arikara, Utes, Mandan, Crow, Cheyenne, Hidatsa, and Blackfoot; it was pounded with the seeds included, then dried in the sun.” It is believed the heat from the sun destroyed the cyanide of the seed, thereby making it safe to eat; even my wild edibles book says as much in its warning note.

This almost unknown little gem is quite nutritious too. A one (1) ounce serving yields the following nutrients: 11.2 mg Calcium, 5.9 mg Magnesium, 12.6 mg Phosphorus, 86.5 mg Potassium, 8.3 mcg Vitamin K, and 2.8 mcg Folate.

It amazed me to discover an article from WebMD which touted the benefits of three not so commonly consumed fruits; the elderberry, black currant, and chokecherry! Here’s a link to the article. In December 2004, WebMD’s article proclaimed “Purple Berries Pack Potent Antioxidant Punch.” These berries have “as much as 50% higher” concentrations of antioxidants in the form of flavonoids “than some of the more common berry varieties, such as blueberries and cranberries.” Chokecherries contain more antioxidants than blueberries?!?! I’m stunned.

The importance of antioxidants within the human body is well documented as a way to prevent or in some cases undo cell damage due to “oxidative stress” or free-radicals. We could all use more antioxidants with all the stress our bodies are now under because of environmental factors and poor dietary choices.

As I’ve learned more in these past few days about this “new” fruit, I’ve become more excited about taking advantage of its bounty, especially since I won’t have black bears as competition for the berries in my area! 😀

Here’s a video made by the people at eattheweeds.com:

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