Chokecherries an Edible Fruit

The chokecherry or prunus virginiana is said to be the most widespread tree in North America.  It is found from Newfoundland to British Colombia, through all but the most northern areas.  It ranges as far south as Georgia and in the Rockies through southern Arizona and New Mexico. The chokecherries of the Southwest are said to be darker in color and less astringent.

Native American tribes of the Northern Rockies, Northern Plains, the forest region of Canada and the United States, considered chokecherries as the most important fruit in their diets.  The bark from the chokecherry root was used as used to ward off or treat colds, fever and stomach maladies by Native Americans.  According to the Cherokees, you boil the bark for fifteen minutes and drink the tea.  The fruit was collected by many Native American tribes and was pounded with the seeds included, then dried in the sun.

European settlers adopted the use of chokecherries, particularly in the northern Plains.  They were mainly used for jam, jelly, wine, and syrup.  Today many people mistakenly think that they are poisonous. Chokecherries are toxic to horses, and moose, cattle, goats, deer, and other animals with segmented stomachs.

The mature fruits are spherical or oblong, occasionally even with a pointed tip.  When fully ripe, they are dark purple to black.  The cherries are about one quarter to one third of an inch across, and contain a large pit.  The cherries are usually in hanging clusters three to six inches long, each cluster contains about eight to twenty cherries.

The biggest problem with chokeberries is created by those who gather the fruit when it is under-ripe.  Chokecherries should be left on the tree until they are dark purple-black, showing no hint of red.  Then they should be left on the bush another week or so to over-ripen.  These will taste better than ones collected as soon as they darken, as their astringency will be greatly reduced.  The best time to collect chokecherries is from the middle of August into early September. Sometimes the fruit appears ripe in late July, but don’t be fooled, give them more time.

Chokeberries also make a good tall hedge or windbreak.  They grow to be ten to fifteen foot high and do not have thorns.  Chokeberries will attract birds which love the cherries.

Since we are trying to replace the inedible scrubs in our yard with edible plants, we plan to plant a hedge of chokeberries this spring.

Howard

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8 Responses to Chokecherries an Edible Fruit

  1. Donna Jean says:

    They make the best jelly ever! And syrup for pancakes!

  2. Rhiannon says:

    Good info. We have chokecherry bushes out back and picked and froze a bunch of them last year. One day I’ll make them into jam! On the poisonous to animals thing, I think they are also poisonous to dogs. I keep my Jack Russell Terrierist away from my bushes once they are ripe.

    Rhiannon

  3. NNature says:

    don’t eat the pits, though

  4. cortney says:

    Hi I live in eastern oregon and my friend has a choke cherry tree, the birds are eating like crazy so i went out there and picked a five gallon bucket. though they are red to dark red. im lucky the tree is big bc they are pretty much gone from the birds. Can i still make jam with them. i would wait till they are dark but they are gone before they turn to the dark purple. I have never made jam before just had some my grandma made. So choke cherries are new to me 🙂 any help would be great

    • Virginia Stevens says:

      Let the fruit stay on the tree as long as you dare, pick it, then let the fruit ripen some more inside. Spread the cherries out in a single layer and ripen.

  5. Pat says:

    there are choke berry trees near our home. The fruit is red with yellow patches (not ready to pick yet, I’m guessing) BUT the fruit is dropping like mad. So, question, is it ok to pick now or … is the tree not getting enough water so the fruit isn’t ever going to ripen? Are they at all usable?

    • Red Sky says:

      Pat if your tree is dropping fruit it needs more water. A deep watering during dry spells will help both with fruit quality and size as well as number. A tree will drop fruit as a defense against the rest of the tree getting damage such as loosing foliage or limbs from dehydration.

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