Prunus Virginiana (U. S. P.)—Wild Cherry.
Preparations: Infusion of Wild Cherry - Extract of Wild Cherry - Fluid Extract of Wild Cherry - Syrup of Wild Cherry - Wine of Wild Cherry - Ferrated Wine of Wild Cherry
Related entries: Prunus (U. S. P.)—Prune - Amygdalus Persica.—Peach Tree - Amygdala.—Almond - Laurocerasi Folia.—Cherry-Laurel Leaves - Acidum Hydrocyanicum Dilutum (U. S. P.)—Diluted Hydrocyanic Acid
"The bark of Prunus serotina, Ehrhart," * * * "collected in autumn"— (U. S. P.). (Cerasus serotina, De Candolle; Cerasus virginiana, Michaux; Prunus virginiana, Miller.).
COMMON NAME: Wild cherry.
ILLUSTRATION: Bentley and Trimen, Med. Plants, 97.
Botanical Source.—The wild cherry is a large tree, generally from 50 to 80 feet high, from 2 to 4 feet in diameter, being of uniform size, and undivided to the height of 20 or 30 feet. The bark is black, rough, and separates naturally from the trunk in thick, slender laminae. The wood is compact, fine-grained, receives a fine polish, and is extensively employed by cabinet manufacturers. The leaves are deciduous, oval-oblong, acuminate, finely and unequally serrate, with incurved, short, and callous teeth, thickish, smooth, no hairs on the under side, shining above, 3 to 5 inches long, half as wide, and borne on petioles which are furnished with 1 or 2 pairs of reddish glands. The flowers are white, in long, erect, terminal racemes, with a small, solitary flower now and then in the axil of the leaves next to the raceme. Bracts inconspicuous. Calyx with sharp, shallow segments. The fruit is a globular drupe, about as large as a pea, of a purplish-black color, edible, but having a bitter taste (L.—W.—G.).
History and Description.—This tree is the Cerasus serotina of De Candolle, and the Cerasus virginiana of Michaux. It was long confused with and went by the name of Prunus virginiana, which properly belongs to the Choke cherry, as given by Linnaeus (see Related Species).
The wild cherry tree is found in many parts of the United States, but is most abundant, and attains the greatest magnitude, in the southwestern states. Its flowers appear in May, and the fruit ripens in August and September. The official portion is the bark, and that of the root should be preferred to that of the trunk and branches. It should be renewed annually, as its properties are much impaired by age. As officially described, wild cherry bark is "in curved pieces or irregular fragments, 2 Mm. (1/12 inch) or more thick, outer surface greenish-brown, or yellowish-brown, smooth and somewhat glossy, marked with transverse scars; if the bark is collected from old wood, and deprived of the corky layer, the outer surface is nut-brown and uneven; inner surface somewhat striate or fissured. Upon maceration in water it develops a distinct bitter-almond odor. Its taste is astringent, aromatic, and bitter. The bark of the very large and of the very small branches is to be rejected"—(U. S. P.). Water and alcohol take up its virtues; boiling impairs its medicinal properties, by driving off the hydrocyanic acid. That gathered in the fall of the year is the best, inasmuch as it yields more hydrocyanic acid than that collected at any other season; the bark collected in the spring being the least desirable. In order to establish whether a given specimen of bark was collected in autumn, Grace E. Cooley (Journal of Pharmacology, 1897, p. 167) recommended to test it for starch and tannin. The starch contained in bark reaches a maximum in spring (April) and in autumn (October), and disappears almost entirely in summer and in winter. Tannin occurs in spring bark in a notably greater quantity than in bark collected in autumn. The distinction is recognizable by means of the ferric chloride test for tannin (for details, see the original paper). Hence, the bark collected in autumn is characterized chemically by containing much starch and little tannin, and yielding the largest amount of hydrocyanic acid.
Chemical Composition.—Dr. Stephen Procter (Amer. Jour. Pharm., Vol. VI, 1834, p. 8), made the first detailed analysis of this bark, and found it to contain starch, resin, tannin, gallic acid, fatty matter, etc., and a straw-colored, volatile oil, analogous to that from bitter almonds, and, like the latter, containing prussic acid. Prof. W. Procter (ibid., Vol. X, 1838, p. 197) showed that the volatile oil is the decomposition product of amygdalin (see Amygdala), which he isolated from the bark. A ferment, analogous to emulsin, is probably present. The yield in essential oil, according to Schimmel & Co. (Report, April, 1890), is 0.2 per cent. Prof. F. B. Power and Mr. Henry Weimar (Pharm. Rundschau, 1887, p. 203) state that wild cherry bark does not contain crystallizable amygdalin, but an analogous substance, obtainable only in an extract-like form, and probably more closely related to laurocerasin (see Laurocerasi Folia). According to the same authors, the fluorescent principle contained in the bark, is a crystallizable glucosid, which is probably also the cause of the peculiar bitterness of the bark (compare R. Rother, Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1887, p. 286). The amount of hydrocyanic acid obtainable from the bark varies from 0.05 per cent, in April, to 0.14 per cent in October (J. S. Perot, Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1852, p. 111). More recently, A. B. Stevens and J. N. Judy (Proc. Amer. Pharm. Assoc., 1895, p. 226) found notably higher results—viz.: 0.32 to 0.34 per cent for thick bark, and 0.24 to 0.27 per cent for thin bark, the higher results being probably due to a more perfect exhaustion of the bark, owing to repeated distillation. The same authors found 4.12 per cent of amygdalin-like substance in thick bark, and 3.16 per cent in thin bark. (For an admirable review of the earlier chemical and the botanical history of wild cherry bark, see R. Bentley, Pharm. Jour. Trans., Vol. V, 1863, p. 97.)
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Wild cherry bark has a tonic and stimulating influence on the digestive apparatus, and a simultaneous sedative action on the nervous system and circulation. It is, therefore, valuable in all those cases where it is desirable to give tone and strength to the system, without, at the same time, causing too great an action of the heart and blood vessels, as, during convalescence from pleurisy, pneumonia, acute hepatitis, and other inflammatory and febrile diseases. Its chief property is its power of relieving irritation of the mucous surfaces, making it an admirable remedy in many gastro-intestinal, pulmonic, and urinary troubles. Like lycopus, it lessens vascular excitement, though it does not control hemorrhages like that agent. It is best adapted to chronic troubles. It is also useful in hectic fever, cough, colliquative diarrhoea, some forms of irritative dyspepsia, whooping-cough, irritability of the nervous system, etc., and has been found an excellent palliative in phthisis, the syrup being employed to moderate the cough, lessen the fever, and sustain the patient's strength. It has likewise been of service in scrofula and other diseases attended with much debility and hectic fever. Wild cherry is an excellent sedative in cardiac palpitation, not due to structural wrongs. It is particularly useful in this disorder when there is nervous fever, tuberculosis, or the debility consequent upon irritative dyspepsia, anemia, chlorosis, or nervous diseases. Externally, it has been found useful, in decoction, as a wash to ill-conditioned ulcers and acute ophthalmia. Dose of the powdered bark, 1 or 2 drachms; of the infusion, 1 ounce of bark to 1 pint of cold water, and allowed to stand a few hours, from 1 to 4 fluid ounces, 4 or 5 times a day, and which is the best mode of using it; syrup of wild cherry, 1 fluid drachm. This agent may be used as a vehicle for Fowler's solution and other medicines. Specific prunus, 1 to 20 drops.
Specific Indications and Uses.—Rapid, weak circulation; continual irritative cough, with profuse muco-purulent expectoration; cardiac palpitation, from debility; dyspnoea; pyrexia; loss of appetite; and cardiac pain.
Related Species.—Prunus virginiana of Linné and Marshall (Prunus obovata, Bigelow; Cerasus virginiana, De Candolle; Prunus demissa, Walters), Choke cherry. Common in the United States and Canada, and, according to Prof. Sargent, "the most widely distributed of any American species of tree" (Prof. E. S. Bastin, Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1895, p. 595). A small shrub, sometimes arborescent, usually from 6 to 10 feet high, having thin, oval, or obovate, sharply-serrate leaves, terminating in an abrupt point. The flowers are white, and borne in short, dense racemes. The fruit is a red, or purplish-red, bitterish, and exceedingly astringent berry. The latter is often employed, in combination with cider, in domestic medication.
Related Preparation.—Elixir Pinus Compositus. This is a cough mixture, representing the combined virtues of white pine (fresh bark), balm of gilead buds, spikenard, cherry bark, ipecac, sanguinarine nitrate, chloroform, morphine acetate, and ammonium chloride. It is an excellent preparation, was introduced under this name, and is prepared only by the Wm. S. Merrell Chemical Co., of Cincinnati, O.
The dried and powdered alcoholic extract known as the "concentration," "prunin," or "cerasin," prepared from both wild cherry and choke cherry, is an inefficient agent, seldom now used.