Wildlife rejoices in cherry trees. Most people have enjoyed the buzz of bees as they pollinate cherry blossoms and the song of native birds as they feast on the summer fruit. Caterpillars, however, tend to go unnoticed. Over 70 species of butterflies and moths lay their eggs in wild cherry trees. Cherry leaves, which are poisonous to livestock, are choice baby food for developing caterpillars throughout North America.
Cherry trees belong to the prunus genus which includes plums, apricots, peaches and almonds. These trees should only be pruned to remove dead, damaged or diseased branches or if the branch is poorly placed. A branch threatening a power line or one that rubs against another branch thus abrading the bark and opening it up for insect damage should be removed with a clean saw or pruning shears.
Be sure to plant your cherry tree in a sunny spot with well drained soil. Most trees do not need fertilizer, as the extra nitrogen commonly found in fertilizers will help the tree produce more leaves but not more fruit. To improve your fruit harvest, pick carefully and avoid damaging the spurs. (See our video with experienced herbalist and wildcrafter Patti Leahy on how to pick wisely.)
Cherries are ripe in early summer, which means around the time of the summer solstice. Plan to net your cherry trees if you want to avoid losing your harvest to wild birds, like jays, waxwings, grosbeaks, and chickadees. Properly managed, your cherry tree can provide good plant-based herbal medicine for 16-20 year, although black cherry trees (Prunus serotina) beloved by herbalists can fruit for up to 200 years. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Drinking cherry juice is a natural treatment for pain caused by gout.
- Eating cherries regularly prevents bone loss leading to osteoporosis.
- Wild cherry bark tea is still recommended for ague (dry coughs with fever and chills).
- Cherry syrup is a favorite remedy for children suffering from the stomach flu.