Wild cherry bark is an effective herbal remedy to stop coughing. It is easy to make at home from wild harvested cherry bark or from wild cherry bark found at the health food store. A cup of wild cherry bark tea suppresses dry, unproductive coughing so you can get the rest you need to allow your body to heal.
I was talking to a colleague the other day and after every few sentences she coughed. It was a dry, nagging cough. The kind of cough that plagues you after you’ve gotten over a cold or flu. It wears you down and keeps you from sleeping. There’s a lot of folks coughing lately. Have you noticed it?
The herbal remedy I wanted to share today is super easy to find if you live in the woods, but even if you can’t forage for it, you CAN find it in a health food store or even online. And believe me it’s worth having a little on hand for those times you can’t stop coughing, because the effect is almost instant. A mere 4 ounces is enough to give you quick relief for many days.
Wild cherry bark
I’m talking about black cherry bark. It’s the inner bark of the black cherry (Prunus serotina), also called wild black cherry or rum cherry. Choke cherry (Prunus virginiana) can be used in a similiar way. You’ve probably noticed the prevalence of cherry cough syrup, cherry cough drops, and cherry flavored cold medication. This comes from the old timey remedy of using black cherry bark to quell a nagging cough.
If you plan to harvest your own cherry bark, you’ll want to make a sure identification of the tree when it has leaves and flowers or fruit. If you harvested cherries in the summer from it you’re golden. This isn’t the same tree as cherry blossoms or sweet cherries. You’re looking for the wild cherry trees.
How to harvest wild cherry bark
Black cherry bark is normally harvested in the dormant season and before bud break. (Like right now) But if you come across a damaged branch in the middle of the summer that needs to be pruned, go ahead and harvest the bark. The bark is best harvested by pruning some large branches and then peeling the outer bark from these large branches while it is very fresh and moist. Then take another layer of inner bark. This inner bark is the portion used in wild cherry bark remedies.
One caution, don’t let the branches sit around damp for days after they are pruned from the tree. Harvest and dry the bark immediately to prevent fermentation. Cherry bark contains amygdalin, which can be toxic if fermented.
The inner bark smells strongly of almonds. It will be a different color than the heart wood. Here you can see it as a greenish layer under the bark. Later in the dormant season it will be more cream colored. It may still have a greenish tinge.
Peel it and dry it immediately so that it doesn’t ferment. I found using a potato peeler made this job easy. Peel it into narrow strips and dry immediately in a warm, airy place. It doesn’t take very long to dry.
Wild cherry bark benefits
Black cherry bark is:
- Circulatory tonic
- Cough suppressant
- Heart tonic similiar to hawthorn
- Digestive bitters
- Digestive tonic
To use it:
Grind the dried wild cherry bark coarsely. Add 1 teaspoon to a tea ball and steep in just boiled water, covered for 10 minutes. Sweeten to taste. Drink 1 cup to quell an irritating cough up to three times a day. Normally bark is simmered to make a decoction but in the case of wild cherry bark some herbalists recommend a just-hot infusion. Your infusion will smell of almonds.
Wild cherry bark has a shelf life of about 1 year. If it still smells of almonds you’re good. If it smells more like saw dust, you may want to refresh your wild cherry bark stash in the next season.
Where to find wild cherry bark
If you don’t have black cherry, wild cherry, or choke cherry trees in your neck of the woods, already prepared wild cherry bark can be found online through Mountain Rose Herbs, and on Amazon here.
Once you have your cherry bark in hand, you can also prepare the wild cherry bark infusion and add honey or sugar to make wild cherry bark cough syrup. Here’s a recipe for wild cherry cough drops so that you can have this effective herbal remedy in a portable form.
While wild cherry bark can quench a coughing spasm, the infection will still need to be treated. Rule out pneumonia or serious lung congestion especially in young children, if there have been symptoms of cold or flu.
Wild cherry bark is a strong medicine and should be used for a short period only. If a cough persists always have it checked out by a professional. Pregnant women should consult their doctor or midwife before using herbal remedies.
Find out about this and other local herbs in my book, Homegrown Healing, From Seed to Apothecary.