Today the Jr. Naturalists and I made a wild cherry elixir. The smell of the house was outrageous.... the sweet cherry-almond fragrance was, as one student put it: "intoxicating"!
It was a sweet day. We headed outside to the path where the edge of the trail is laced with an old rock wall and a border of trees; maple, shag bark hickory, and towering black cherries. Behind that, on the edge of the gentle knotweed hill, the smaller cherry trees were in full blossom. We harvested fresh flowering twigs for an elixir. The misty air was filled with the aroma of the polleny flowers.
It was magical.
We used the inner bark of the black cherry, and the twigs and flowers of the smaller, mystery cherry. I cannot seem to figure out what species it is.
None the less, we made a wonderful elixir. We (very) gently decocted the bark (both spp) and infused the flowers of the mystery cherry tree. We composted the leaves, as my reading has explained the leaves to be potentially sickening due to the cyanide content.
Then we mixed it:
1/2 cup flower infusion
1/2 cup bark infusion
1 cup honey
1 cup brandy
I will be making more on my own - independent of a class setting - and it will be stronger since I won't have to fit it into one and a half hours - I will be infusing the flowers and bark into the premixed blend of one part each brandy, water, and honey. That way there will be no dilution.
My black cherry tincture (twigs, fruit, and some leaves) from last year has been a saving grace this week for my deep cough. Small doses of it immediately calm and soothe the spasms and that horrible itchy pain.
the flowers are in clusters (corymbs) of two to five, approximately, with a long stem to each flower, typical of cultivated cherries. Each flower displays the classic Rosaceae pattern: 5 petals, numerous stamens and pistils. The leaves are toothed and the tips are pointed, but not elongated. They do not appear to be shiny and waxy like choke cherry or black cherry leaves usually are. They lack the little glands on the petiole - otherwise I might brand it as a wild cherry: Prunus avium. I will be keeping watch for changes, however.
The newer bark is the quintessential cherry bark: pronounced lenticels, and smooth with a gorgeous bordeaux color.
The growing habit is that of a smaller tree-shrub. one to three main trunks, out branching into a few more secondary, elegantly wavy small trunks, then into branches and twigs. Broken, fallen branches like to continue flowering and growing if they have a chance at surviving. The beaver bog is nearby and much of this ground is nicely hydrated. The West facing trees are in full blossom. The true black cherries are not flowering yet, although the premature racemes are formed, as you can see in the below picture, the only picture in this post that is of true Black Cherry. The mature bark (on the main trunk) is furrowed and cracked, typical of black cherry, but unlike black cherry (and more like river birch) it was severely curling and peeling on the main trunk. The second eldest branches displayed relatively normal bark behavior, and the newest twigs were your classic pin cherry style; as in the twig photo above.
The bark, although lovely, did not have nearly the fragrance as the black cherry bark. My trusty co-instructor was generous enough to run out and harvest an additional swath of true black cherry for our elixir. So, I do not know ultimately if my mystery cherry carries the same medicinal prowess as the true. The flowers seem to exemplify the same exquisite fragrance and are a very tasty edible treat whilst harvesting.
We prepared the flowers as a gentle infusion. We prepared the bark in a gentle decoction, so it was reduced by about 1/3. The fragrance was intense and romantic.
And we all went home with a little jar of homemade medicine.