Wild cherry bark is an ingredient often used in herbal cough syrups and has a rich history of use as a cough-soother and more. It has a soothing, sedative-like action on the respiratory system and also acts as a digestive aid.
Native Americans frequently used cherry bark as medicine and passed on much of their knowledge to early settlers. It's also an herb used in traditional Chinese medicine, particularly when there are palpitations, rapid heart beat, fever, and agitation present.
Here's more about the benefits of wild cherry bark and how to use it.
All About Wild Cherry Bark
Wild cherry trees (Prunus serotina) are native to eastern North America and also distributed throughout Europe. They can grow up to 100 feet tall with trunks that measure 4 feet in diameter.
The trees produce edible fruit that are a dark red-purple color and usually the size of peas.
The bark of wild cherry trees can be reddish-brown or dark gray to black and will peel off in flakes. Both the bark and small twigs can be used in herbal preparations (if you cut the twigs off fresh).
Energetically, wild cherry bark can be either cooling or warming and has a drying effect. Because cherry trees belong to the rose family, cherry bark is considered an herb for the heart and emotions as well as the physical body.
Generally speaking, wild cherry is indicated for "excited" tissue states, which can appear in the form of redness, inflammation, and/or tenderness.
Cherry bark has long been used by Native American tribes for coughs, colds, fevers, labor pain, dysentery, digestive issues, and skin wounds. Today, most herbalists favor it for cough and respiratory support, although it has several other uses as well.
Benefits of Wild Cherry Bark
Wild cherry bark has antitussive properties, which means it acts as a cough suppressant. In fact, it's so powerful that you may not want to use it in situations where it's good for your body to cough, meaning when you need to clear something out of your lungs.
Most herbalists recommend it for "unproductive" coughing or persistent coughing that lasts even after an infection has passed. It can also be used for coughing that prevents sleep or when coughing has exhausted a person.
Cherry bark has antispasmodic and expectorant properties and can dry mucus, improve expectoration, and open the airways.
Wild cherry bark has bitter glycosides that encourage optimal digestion by stimulating the production of bile and digestive enzymes to help your body break down food more effectively.
The bark also has antispasmodic action that helps to soothe digestion and may help with diarrhea- one of its most traditional uses.
Cherry bark can also be used as a general digestive tonic because its astringency acts as a "toner" for your digestive system.
Like hawthorn berry (another member of the rose family), one of the benefits of wild cherry bark is heart support.
It has long been considered a nourishing and tonifying herb for the heart to be used especially when palpitations, irregularities, or rapid pulse are present. Wild cherry is thought to strengthen the heart, and its sedative action may help to slow circulation and heart beat.
You can use cherry bark on its own or with other heart tonics like hawthorn or motherwort.
Wild cherry bark was once used as a poultice herb for various wounds and skin problems. Some Native American tribes would also use it for skin ulcers and burns.
The plant compounds in cherry bark give it an ability to calm inflammation, and its astringency helps to tone the skin. This makes it useful as a skin wash for various issues, especially where there is redness or puffiness.
However, since cherry bark is naturally drying, you may not want to use it on dry or chapped skin.
A final use for wild cherry bark is as a restorative herb. It has benefits for supporting the body through convalescence, especially in the case of long or chronic illnesses like bronchitis.
This is due to a combination of its other actions: an ability to improve digestion, strengthen and calm the heart, clear excess heat, and restore vitality.
Because cherry bark is especially supportive for the respiratory system, you may want to use it for recovery after a respiratory illness, even after the infection itself has gone away.
Using Wild Cherry Bark
Now that you know about the benefits of wild cherry bark, what's the best way to use it?
Cherry bark can be used either fresh or dried, although you would obviously need access to wild cherry trees to harvest it fresh. For most people, the best option is to buy organic dried cherry bark to make sure no pesticides have been used on the trees.
The most popular way to use wild cherry bark is in an herbal syrup where it can be used on its own or with other cough-supportive herbs.
You can also use the dried herb to make wild cherry bark tea by simmering it with water for 10-15 minutes or use it as a tincture.
In general, wild cherry bark is very safe to use and suitable for children as well as adults.
If you want to harvest it from the wild, be sure of your identification first because there are other trees, like chokecherry, that can be confused with wild cherry trees.
Also, do not harvest any bark that has fallen off the trunk and is laying on the ground because it can become toxic once it starts to ferment. Use any bark you do harvest immediately or dry it in a dehydrator right away to avoid fermentation.
There are few sustainability issues with wild cherry- in fact, it's considered invasive in parts of Europe- but still practice sustainable harvesting so that you don't kill the trees you take bark from.
Enjoying the Benefits of Wild Cherry Bark
If you use wild cherry bark for nothing else, try it out in an herbal cough syrup. You just might be amazed at the results!
Of course, like any other herb, cherry bark has more than one action. You may also wish to discover its benefits for digestion, the heart, or as a restorative tonic after an illness.
Whichever way you use it, you're sure to benefit from this long-treasured herb.
Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute medical advice and should not be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your health care provider, herbalist, midwife, or naturopathic physician before taking herbs, supplements, etc. Here's the link to our full disclaimer.