Prunus virginiana | Choke Cherry | Condom
• Scientific Name: Prunus virginiana
• Common Name(s): Common Chokecherry, Choke Cherry, Black Chokecherry, Red Chokecherry, California Chokecherry, Virginia Chokecherry, Eastern Chokecherry, Western Chokecherry, Rum Chokecherry, Whiskey Chokecherry, Wild Cherry, Wild Blackcherry, Bird cherry, Jamcherry, Chokeberry, Cabinet Cherry, Chuckleyplum, Sloe Tree, Bitter-Berry, Caupulin
• Nickname: Condom
• Native: L48
• Group: Dicot
• Family: Rosaceae
• Duration: Perennial
• Growth Habitat: Tree/Shrub
• Known Human Hazards: See Miscellaneous
• Poisonous Look-Alikes: See Miscellaneous
IDENTIFYING CHARACTERISTICS: small to medium sized tree / leaves have edges which are finely serrated and sharp / when broken, twigs emit bitter almond odor / dense, white (petals), cylindrical flow clusters and or dark (red, purple) to black cherries (smaller than the commercial kind) / 1 large seed per berry / berries hand in grape-like clusters / plum or cherry-like seam down the side of each berry / flowers emit strong, sweet, almond-like fragrance. TIME OF YEAR: blooms April to July / fruits form a couple of months later / collect berries from mid August into early September. ENVIRONMENT: rich, rather moist soils / in thickets / patchy shade / borders of woods / on shores. METHOD OF PREPARATION: fruit raw or cooked when ripe (dark and juicy) / very harsh / seed raw or cooked; do not eat if too bitter / bark and twigs are a tea substitute / drying improves taste by sweetening them / boiling or drying neutralizes the naturally occurring hydrocyanic acid (see Miscellaneous: Known Human Hazards) / drying method 1: sun dry ripe fruit with pits inside (about 1 1/2 days); spit out the pits as you go / drying method 2: pulverized ripe fruit, including seed, into a pulp; shape into small patties or balls then sun dry (about 1 1/2 days); fruit balls or patties can be stored for future use / pits contain significant quantities of oil and protein / add ripe fruits to soups and stews as flavoring and as a thickening agent / spear green branches throughout meat slab while cooking to add spice to the taste.
FORM: erect to straggling shrub or small tree / irregular rounded crown / thicket-forming / rarely over 30 feet tall / 10 to 20 feet wide when mature. FLOWERS: numerous / appear before leaves are fully developed / strong, sweet, almond-like fragrance / dense clusters arranged in cylindrical, elongated racemes 3 to 6 inches long / individual flowers are 1/4 to 3/8 inch in diameter. PETALS: 5 / white / almost round / 4-6 mm long. LEAVES: alternate / elliptic (football) to ovate-oblong or oblong-obovate (tear drop; from stalk) shaped blades / stalks up to 1/2 inch long / blades 1 to 4 inches long and 1 to 2 inches wide / 1 to 2 glands in area where leaf blade meets leaf stem / edges are finely serrated and sharp / usually abruptly pointed at tips / bright green, glossy and hairless on the upper surface / more pale and hairless to short hairs on the bottom surface / when crushed they emit a fragrance resembling cherry / turn yellow in autumn. BARK: prominent “corky” spots which are reddish-white / inner bark has bitter cherry flavor and aroma / young trees vary from gray to reddish brown; they’re smooth, shiny and are distinctly marked by horizontal rows of raised air pores / older tree bark turns thicker and darker; brownish-black and horizontal pores turn into shallow grooves that get deeper with age. ROOT: rhizomes / up to 3/4 inch in diameter / deep / long; can extend beyond 35 feet from base of the tree. STAMENS: about 25. CALYX: hairless / lobes spreading to curved back / oval / finely glandular-roughened / 1 to 2 mm long. STEMS: numerous / slender / woody. TWIG: slender, but stouter than black cherry / light brown to gray / emits bitter almond odor when broken / buds 1/3 inch long / covered with brownish scales. FRUIT: replace flowers / globe shaped / fleshy / soft when ripe / pit in the center / smaller than the black cherry / 1/4 to 3/8 inch in diameter / color range from dark red or purple to almost black when ripe / shiny / 1 plum or cherry-like seam from top to bottom / sweet but astringent (tart) / in hanging grape-like clusters. SEEDS: large / 1 in center of each berry. SIZE: rarely over 30 feet tall / 10 to 20 feet wide when mature.
• Native Americans used the branches to make arrow shafts, bows and skewers for food.
• Spear green branches throughout meat slab while cooking to add spice to the taste.
LEGENDS, MYTHS AND STORIES
• Dried native wild fruits, such as the chokecherry and the June berry, were articles of intertribal commerce for Native Americans. The agricultural tribes prepared some of these for themselves, but being occupied with the care of their cultivated crops they did not put up such great quantities of them as did the non-agricultural tribes on the high plains. Consequently, the agricultural tribes traded surplus products of their crops for the surplus products of the non-agricultural tribes. When the Arikaras traded with the Dakotas, they paid 1 hunansadu (roughly an arms length) of shelled corn for 1/2 hunansadu of chokecherries. When they bought dried June berries, they paid for them at the same rate as for chokecherries. June berries are harder to gather than chokecherries, but easier to prepare by drying. The chokecherries are easy to gather, but the process of pounding them to a pulp, shaping this pulp into patties or balls and drying them is laborious; hence they were equal in price.
• Known Human Hazards: The seed can contain high concentrations of hydrogen cyanide. This toxin is readily detected by its bitter taste. It is usually present in too small a quantity to do any harm, any bitter seed or fruit should not be eaten. In moderate to larger quantities hydrogen cyanide can cause respiratory failure and even death (boiling or drying neutralizes hydrocyanic acid). In small quantities, hydrogen cyanide has been shown to stimulate respiration and improve digestion, it is also claimed to be of benefit in the treatment of cancer.
• Poisonous Look-Alikes: Common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) is a toxic plant that resembles Chokecherry but it has spiny branches, 2 to 4 seeds inside each berry, leaf edges are smooth (toothless) and it’s inner bark is bright yellow or yellow-orange (even on twigs). Another toxic plant that resembles Chokecherry is Carolina laurelberry (Prunus caroliniana) but it’s dark (blue/black) fruit is hard (not soft) and it’s leaf edges are smooth and/or will have a few soft teeth which occur at irregular intervals; not at very fine regular intervals (serrated) like the Chokecherry.
• All members of the genus contain amygdalin and prunasin, substances which break down in water to form hydrocyanic acid (cyanide or prussic acid).
• The common name, chokecherry, came from the bitter and astringent (tart) taste of the fruit.
• Though most of us today would find the bits of seeds in the traditionally prepared chokecherry patties or balls unpleasant, the seeds contain significant quantities of oil and protein.
• Chokecherries were used by Native Americans to make pemmican; used as traveling rations, winter food as well as everyday food. Pemmican was made by getting a slice of dried meat (bison was preferred over elk, deer or antelope) and pounding it with a stone until it had a fine texture. Bone marrow and animal lard were then heated and mixed with the meat. Crushed chokecherries were then added.
• Native Americans made a beautiful red dye from the juice.
• The chokecherry fruit can be used to make a tasty jam, jelly, or syrup, but the bitter nature of the fruit requires sugar to sweeten the preserves.
• Chokecherry is used to craft wine in the western United States mainly in the Dakotas and Utah as well as in Manitoba, Canada.
• In the 19th century medical doctors used many concoctions of chokecherry leaves and bark to treat a number of ailments. Chokecherry bark was listed in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia from 1820 to 1970.
• In 2007, Governor John Hoeven signed a bill naming the chokecherry the official fruit of the state of North Dakota, in part because its remains have been found at more archeological sites in the Dakotas than anywhere else.
MEDICINAL PROPERTIES: Antidiarrheal, Astringent, Febrifuge, Pectoral, Sedative, Tonic, Antitussive, Carminative, Appetizer
PARTS USED: Root Bark, Tree Bark, Berries
COMMON CONDITIONS: Bleeding (External): Apply pounded inner bark (cambium layer) poultice • Bronchitis: Bark infusion • Burns: Root bark infusion as cool wash and compress • Colds: Bark infusion • Coughs: Bark infusion • Diarrhea: Bark infusion, inner bark (cambium layer) infusion or drink berry juice • Dysentery: Bark infusion or boil and eat berries • Fever: Drink bark infusion and apply cool water compress to forehead • Insomnia: Bark infusion or root bark infusion • Loss of Appetite: Bark infusion or root bark infusion • Menstrual Cramps: Inner bark (cambium layer) decoction • Rheumatism: Bark infusion, root bark infusion or leaf infusion • Sore Throat: Drink berry juice or gargle inner bark (cambium layer) decoction • Sores: Root bark infusion as wash and compress • Stomach Ache: Inner bark (cambium layer) decoction or bark infusion • Stomach Cramps: Inner bark (cambium layer) decoction • Stress: Bark infusion or root bark infusion • Ulcers (Skin): Root bark infusion as wash and compress • Wounds: Inner bark (cambium layer) decoction as wash and compress.
• For better memory and to personalize the story a bit; embellish it by incorporating your five senses as much as possible. Mnemonic techniques rely on the fact that your brain uses information from all your senses — touch, sight, smell, hearing, and taste — to form memories. Create images that are clear, pleasant, funny, exaggerated or sensual as long as it can help you remember the information. It will also help your memory retention to act out each part of the mnemonic over and over again.
• Mnemonics, shared in the course, are designed to have the distinguishing plant parts trigger the mnemonic when you spot them in the field. This is called the “trigger effect”. If ever you have trouble recalling the complete mnemonic, after spotting a distinguishing plant feature, study all of the plant parts closely; they will remind you.
MNEMONIC WARNING: The following mnemonic contains adult references and are for mature audiences only. No common item, beside a condom (springboard to the mnemonic), could be thought of that best matched the description of the showy flowering spikes of this plant. Why key in on the showy flower spikes? Because berries will not always be present and still being able to identify the plant for medicine can be useful. When berries are present and there are no flowers, we all know what berries look like. Once you’re up close; noticing the plum or cherry-like seam down the side of each berry, the serrated leaves, or any other characteristic will help you to remember the full mnemonic.
MNEMONIC NOTE: Of the 52 plants in this course there are 3 that develop clusters of berry-like fruit. They are Burning Bush (Rhus glabra | Smooth Sumac), Condom (Prunus virginiana | Choke Cherry) and Plates (Sambucus nigra | Black Elderberry). Each mnemonic in this course is based on multiple parts of each plant; so that, for example, if the flowers are not in bloom there are other plant parts (parts of the story) available to help remind you of the mnemonic. Now, Burning Bush flowers and fruit resemble it’s nickname. Condom and Plates flowers resemble their nicknames but their fruit (berry clusters) do not. It will be helpful, in this case, when the condom-like or plate-like flowers are not in bloom to remember that Condom berries (unlike Plate berries) have a cherry-like seam down the side and Plate twigs/branches are hollow and have a soft white pith. MNEMONIC: The first thing to do when you see a berry is look for a vagina or a penis. EXPLAINED: Condom berries (unlike Plates berries) have a cherry-like seam (represents her vagina) down the side. Plates’ berries have 2 to 3 seeds (testicles) per berry and it’s twigs/branches (break off a penis) are hollow (urinary tract) and have a soft whitish pith (VD) inside. OPTION: One way to remember associating Plates with penis is through the word “break”. Penis’ are broken (off of the tree or by VD) and plates can be broken.
VIVIDLY IMAGINE: Seeing the condom flower spike. Now imagine shaking hands with this flower spike. The 5 fingers on your hand and the 5 petals of each flower, shaking your hand back, reminds you of the 5 steps of condom use for any newlywed man who, with his wife, who does not want to get pregnant yet, decided to go on a majestic backpacking trip for their honeymoon. Step 1: Give her flowers that were picked from this tree. Not all men will do this. Step 2: Build a warm and romantic campfire. Not all men will do this. Step 3: Test the condom. Not all men will do this either. Step 4: Apply the condom. Step 5. Insert. Now, after making love the man noticed blood, beneath his wife, on the leaves of the leaf bed he made for them next to the camp fire. She was a virgin and he popped her cherry.
MNEMONIC EXPLAINED: Seeing the condom flower spike (individual flowers grow in clusters [NOTE: fruits grow in clusters too] arranged in cylindrical, elongated spikes that are white; they’re shaped like a condom and are 3 to 6 inches long [average size of a soft to hard penis]; flowers are keyed in on for this mnemonic because we all know what a berry looks like; if there are berries, hanging in clusters [NOTE: flowers grow in clusters and berries grow in clusters too; they will replace the flower clusters], and there are no flowers on the tree, to determine if they’re Chokecherries the word “cherry” [the last word in this mnemonic] should bring this full mnemonic into memory). Now imagine shaking hands with this flower spike (feel the clusters in your entire hand; on all 5 fingers). The 5 fingers on your hand and the 5 petals of each flower, shaking your hand back, reminds you of the 5 steps of condom use for any newlywed man who, with his wife, who does not want to get pregnant yet, decided to go on a majestic backpacking trip for their honeymoon. Step 1: Give her flowers (these flower spikes) that were picked from this tree. Not all men (all-men = almond; flowers have an almond-like odor; leaves can be almond shaped) will do this. Step 2: Build a warm and romantic campfire (here you must imagine the earliest stages of campfire building; it’s to gather tender and kindling; the kindling are broken twigs). Not all men (all-men = almond; broken twigs have an almond-like odor) will do this. Step 3: Test the condom (the man fills it with water, lifts the water filled condom off of the surface from it’s twisted opening to look for leaks [reminds you that one of the possible leaf shapes is tear drop-like; tear drops away from the leaf stem; in other words the narrow end of tear drop shaped leaves are attached to leaf stem; the leaf stem, in this mnemonic, is represented by the man’s fingers where he is lifting the water filled condom which takes on the shape of a tear drop]. NOTE: When you see leaves that are abruptly pointed at tips, these points represent the reservoir tip or teat of the condom. The condom passes the leak test. Now for the puncture test. The man takes out his serrated pocket knife, slips it inside of the condom and then tries to stretch/cut the serrated edges through the condom [leaf edges have fine serrated edges]). Not all men (all-men = almond; leaves can also be almond [elliptic to ovate-oblong] shaped; when crushed they do not have an almond-like odor but a cherry-like scent) will do this either. Step 4: Apply the condom (the man’s 2 testicles represent most [not all] of the leaves that have 2 small glands in area where leaf [represented by the man’s pelvis area] meets the stem [represented by the man’s penis]). Step 5. Insert (her vagina represents the plum or cherry-like seam down the side of each berry). Now, after making love the man noticed blood, beneath his wife, on the leaves (this associates leaves with blood… read on) of the leaf bed he made for them next to the camp fire. She was a virgin and he just popped her cherry (this associates blood with cherries; leaves have cherry-like scent when crushed). OPTION: We all know that cherries/blood is dark red (like the Chokecherry). Imagine bruises on one or both because one or both like “it” rough. Now vividly imagine how the bruises were caused. Envisioning these bruises will remind you that Chockcherries can also be purple to almost black.