Identify and Harvest Wild Cherry Bark

Identify a Wild Cherry Tree

To identify wild cherry bark (or black cherry, but NOT chokecherry – Prunus virginiana) see that it has alternate simple leaves, 2-6 inches long, uniformly wide to lance-shaped, pointed at the tip, and with fine teeth which curve inward towards the tip of the leaf. The upper surface of the leaf is dark green and shiny; the lower surface is paler in color. The leaf has 1-2 tiny glands on the petiole near the leaf blade. The buds are 1/8 to 1/4 inch long, with 6 dark red-brown scales; the terminal bud is usually slightly larger than lateral buds.

Matthew Wood writes: “Mid-nineteenth century literature often confuses the identity and uses of these two agents. Chokecherry is a powerful astringent, whereas wild cherry is a sedative. The former is thus used for diarrhea and dysentery.” [1].

To identify a Wild Cherry tree, look at the leaves. Wild Cherry has oblong-ovate to lanceolate leaves with serrated edges and rust-colored hairs on each side of the midrib. Those leaves distinguish wild cherry from colder-regions cherries, the leaves of which have white hairs and only on the midrib. On the other hand, Japanese flowering cherry (Prunus serrulata), hardy in USDA zones 5 through 8, has strongly serrated leaves that are bristly on the ends and either hairless or downy underneath. Although some cherry tree lookalikes have purple leaves, cherry leaves are green.

Erin Piorier at Minnesota Herbalist states…

When I am looking at Wild Cherry or Chokecherry leaves. I always flip over the leaves. Many Wild Cherry leaves will have tiny rusty or orange colored hairs along both side of the midrib near the bottom third of the leaf. (By bottom I refer to the part of the leaf closest to the stem or petiole). Not all Wild Cherry leaves have these hairs, but rusty orange hairs on the midrib are NEVER present on Chokecherry leaves. For this reason, this is my personal favorite means of differentiating between young Wild Cherry and Chokecherry trees.

leaf hairs on wild cherry tree leaves
See the tiny hairs close to the base of the leaf (to the left) this is absent on chokecherry.

Identifying a Tree is More Than Bark

If you are lucky enough to have leaf and flower to help with your identification, the shape of both are helpful to know. The leaves of the chokecherry are much longer and slimmer than the wild cherry leaf. The flowers are arranged differently as well.

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young wild cherry bark branch and leaves
A young secondary branch of a wild cherry tree

wild cherry leaves and flowers

How to Harvest the Bark of a Wild Cherry Tree

Note: The inner bark of the wild cherry tree should be collected in the fall when cyanogenic properties are at their lowest and then dried right away. If you don’t dry it first, it will ferment. When the wild cherry bark ferments it becomes toxic. For this reason you should never harvest bark from old wood or from wood that has been severed from the tree and is on the ground. This is a VERY good reason to make sure you harvest from branches that are still growing on the tree. It is best (and easier) to harvest your bark from a smaller branch off a main branch to avoid harming the trunk of the tree.

In the photo below you can see the part of the bark that you are wanting to harvest. The green and some of the whiter, below it, but not down into the pith.

harvesting wild cherry bark

Once you have identified your wild cherry tree, select a good-sized secondary branch; at least as big around as your thumb. It should have little or no older, fissured bark. After removing it from the tree, discard the smaller branch-lets and leaves. Remove the bark from the selected branch. It usually peels easily once started. Drying the bark is essential, but heat degrades the value of wild cherry. It dries very quickly on its own after it is removed from the branch. For tea, the cold infusion method is preferred. Wild Cherry syrup, if made without heat, is an excellent preparation for aiding the frustration of a nonproductive cough. When making the dried plant tincture be sure to include glycerine in the menstruum. This addition will inhibit the plant’s tannins from binging with other constituents, making the tincture unusable.

mature fissured bark of wild cherry tree
mature and fissured bark of a wild cherry tree

I read somewhere that the bark of the wild cherry tree looks like burnt cornflakes, LOL sort of true.

harvesting wild cherry bark


  1. Wood, Matthew. The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants. North Atlantic, 2009. Print.
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