Notes on the Cherry-Heart Connection
So I’ve been working with Western Chokecherry (that would be Prunus virginiana L. var. demissa, though most Cherries seem to work in a nearly identical way) flowers, leaves and bark this spring in a tincture. Now yes, I can hear the protests already. I too have read all those herb books that say to never ever ingest the cherry leaf any which way or you’ll die. And more specifically, that you should only use the dried bark that has been collected in fall. I’ve used fresh bark tincture from spring and I’ve been eating the leaves and flowers all spring and I’m not dead yet, nor have I noticed any adverse effects whatsoever. It probably would be unwise to eat a pile a leaves for breakfast, but you know, considering the taste, I don’t think you’d manage it anyhow.
What I have noticed is the very calming nervine effect I get from nibbling the leaves or flowers. Similar to the bark of course, but I think it’s a bit stronger in the flowers. It borders on euphoric but is not noticeably sedating. It’s quite the mood enhancer and carries over well to the tincture. The tincture of the flower, leaves and bark together smells similar to that of Peach, and stronger than that made just with Cherry bark. The scent is, as expected, very much like a very strong tasting cherry or almond extract. The inner bark tastes sweet, slightly bitter and strongly aromatic. The flowers are sweet, astringent and have that somewhat overripe smell that Hawthorn flowers also have. The leaves are astringent, bitter and somewhat aromatic.
I have not used the tincture in large dosages, having found 1-10 drops to be quite sufficient thus far. I have given my seven year old daughter five drop doses as a treatment for feeling overheated, irritated and exhausted. She has had no adverse effects from the dose, and feels that it helps her feel relaxed and not so irritable and tired, she also says quite emphatically that it helps with her growing pains.
The bark has long been recognized as a specific for those with cardiac weakness, especially when accompanied by a chronic cough, palpitations, high blood pressure, digestive impairment and signs of heat and irritation from weakness. I’d venture to say that the flowers perform these functions, and then some. I’ve noticed that wild cherry flowers can sometimes elicit the same minor but noticeable momentary irregular heartbeat that Hawthorn does in some people. Clients have often been able to feel an immediate slowing or smoothing in their pulse. Very relaxing, verging on euphoric in sensitive individuals. An excellent nervine for use in cases of grief, broken-heartedness and hysteria. I have found a few drops of the tincture useful in stopping my own heart palpitations on occasion, and also notice the steadying and slowing of the pulse.
While in the village recently, I found myself without access to good water, and attempted to buy some bottled water from one of those big soda spewing vending machines. Instead of giving me the proper plain water, it gave me a berry flavored water instead. I was skeptical, and checked out the ingredients which included sucralose and other weird chemicals. But I was thirsty, and not interested in paying another dollar to get more water so I chugged half of it anyhow. Within 15 minutes I was having significant heart palpitations. I haven’t had much in the way of palpitations for years, but as a teen and in my early twenties every bit of anxiety, bad food or sleeplessness would trigger tachycardia. It’s always started by a sudden movement, usually standing up or sitting down too quickly. My normally too low blood pressure will suddenly sky rocket, the world will be buzzy and full of spots, my chest will hurt and my heart will amp up to light speed.
They usually last anywhere from 15-45 minutes. The worst part is when they stop, they usually cease quite suddenly with my heart feeling like it hits a wall, stops for a second then resumes normal pace. During the stop, my blood pressure plummets and I often black out at least for a few seconds. In my late teens, I more than once completely passed out at the end of an episode of palpitations. So when this happened the other day, I really really wanted to avoid that sudden stop at the end of the fall and I dug through my bag looking for some herb to help. I happened to grab Chokecherry tincture and took five drops under my tongue. Immediately, only three minutes into the palpitations, my heart gently slowed to normal and my blood pressure evened out without even a hint crashing. I didn’t even get all hypoglycemic and weak afterwards. I promptly threw away the rest of the bottle of flavored water stuff.
I’ve long felt that Cherry and Rose both have a profound influence upon the heart, and have been delighted to find some literature that backs up my intuitive sense. Tommie Bass considered Wild Cherry to be a wonderful treatment for heart problems of any kind (as well as one of the most important liver herbs he knew of, along with Red Oak). Matthew Wood has asserted that the Native Americans made use of the tree for all sorts of heart problems, and says that:
“Wild Cherry should be seen primarily as a cardio-vascular remedy… The flavor is a pleasant blend of sweet and bitter, the temperature is both warm and cool, and the impression is astringent. The combination of warm and cool is very rare; it emphasizes the relationship to febrile and circulatory processes. Wild Cherry bark acts upon the cardio-vascular system, equalizing the circulation and reducing the irritation and congestion which would encumber the heart. The combination of sweet and bitter indicates a remedy that is especially nutritive, as both these flavors stimulate the secretions of the mouth, stomach and digestive system. Bitterness is associated with the heart and circulation as well, since it reduces irritation and fever. The nourishing influence indicated by the sweet flavor is directed, as it were, towards the heart. This is joined by the astringency, which also tones up the heart. Prunus serotina not only reduces irritation but nourishes, tonifies and strengthens the heart muscle. It also acts upon the digestive system, stimulating the appetite, promoting secretions, calming irritation and tightening and toning the mucous membranes…
“Wild Cherry equalizes the circulation, removing tendencies to hot and cold and excitation and exhaustion. It is valuable when there is irritation and excessive ardour of the pulse. It is also beneficial when there is feebleness, deficiency and intermittency of the pulse, usually found in chronic cases where the heart is exhausted. The cold infusion was long used as a remedy for irregular, intermittent action of the heart, with deficient pulse.
“Wild Cherry is the American Indian version of Crataegus (Hawthorn), which is also a member of the Prunaceae family used in heart and digestive problems.”
Another quote by Finley Ellingwood also illustrated how highly Cherry has been regarded as a medicine for the heart:
“Wild cherry is popular in the treatment of mild cases of palpitation, especially those of a functional character, or from reflex causes. Palpitation from disturbed conditions of the stomach is directly relieved by it. It is said to have a direct tonic influence upon the heart when the muscular structure of that organ is greatly weakened, when there is dilation or valvular insufficiency, especially if induced by prolonged gastric or pulmonary disease.
“As a remedy for dyspepsia it has many advocates. It is a tonic for the stomach improving digestion by stimulating the action of the gastric glands. It soothes irritability of the stomach from whatever cause. Although the properties of a nerve sedative are not ascribed to this agent, general nervous irritation is soothed by it administration, nervous irritability of the stomach and of the respiratory organs is allayed and a tonic influence is imparted to the central nervous system.”
I haven’t yet had time to use Cherry in any long term cardiac cases, but I have high hopes for it. I don’t recommend subjecting Cherry bark or any other part to heat for any reason. If you want to make an infusion, try making a cold infusion over a period of a few hours. This is also an excellent belly soother as well, as I mentioned in a previous post and as Darcey Blue confirmed with her personal experience. That said, Tommie Bass was reknowned for his Cherry Tonic, in which he boiled the bark for a good amount of time, and that still seemed to work. I definitely prefer the taste of the non-heated preparations though.
I’d be most pleased to hear from anyone else working with Cherry flowers for any reason, and also from those who are using Cherry as a heart remedy.