Notes from the Apothecary: Cherries
I’m inspired to write about cherries because of my next door neighbour. They have a huge cherry tree that hangs over into our garden. We don’t mind. In fact, we love it. Not only is it a beautiful tree, with strong, thick limbs and richly coloured bark, it encourages all kinds of wildlife. Just this afternoon, we all sat enraptured in the kitchen as a squirrel hopped around the back garden munching on the fallen cherries. They’re just starting to ripen as we leave the summer solstice behind, and the windfalls attract all manner of birds and small mammals.
There are actually over 50 types of tree that hold the name cherry, all members of the Prunus family. The cherries you tend to find at the grocery store or supermarket are the European kind – sweet and fleshy. Some cherries that are native to North America are called chokecherries and can be very sour or bitter until they are dried. Black cherries are also native to North America and are somewhat sweeter, although not as sweet as the European “Wild Cherry”, or Prunus avium.
The Kitchen Garden
Growing cherries is fairly simple but you need to make sure you have space for a tree to grow. However, it’s possible to keep the tree fairly small and still have it produce fruit, especially if you keep the tree in a container. Grow cherry trees in lots of organic matter and fertiliser, and add potash to increase fruit yield.
Fruit will only grow on wood that is one year old or older so don’t prune your tree so heavily that it has only brand new shoots, as you won’t ever get any cherries this way!
No matter where you grow your cherry tree, you’re bound to lose some fruit to the birds. They simply love them, even when they are young and under-ripe. I never mind this. It’s a way of giving back to nature.
Cherries can be used in jams, jellies, pies, crumbles, and any number of desserts and fruit salads. Plus, of course, you can just eat cherries fresh from the tree! Always eat the darkest and softest fruit and never eat the stones as they are toxic.
Cherries are rich in antioxidants which help keep everything running nicely in your body and encourage your liver to do its job at cleaning your blood efficiently. Cherries also contain plenty of fiber plus a range of vitamins and minerals. Cherries help you top up our B-vitamins, which can help reduce fatigue. Interestingly, though, some people use cherries as a remedy for sleeplessness.
Mrs Grieve in her Modern Herbal (1931) stated that Prunus virginiana (chokecherry) could be used as a sedative, an astringent tonic, and was particularly indicated in the treatment of chest complaints such as bronchitis. It’s also been used in the treatment of nervous disorders.
The Witch’s Kitchen
Cherries are revered throughout the world for their stunning blossoms, luscious fruit, and hard-wearing wood which polishes up beautifully. It’s no wonder, then, that so much folklore and magic surrounds this amazing tree.
Scottish folklore surrounding the bird cherry, Prunus padus, held that it was a witch’s tree, and in some places it was even known as hag berry. Burning the wood was considered extremely bad luck.
In modern witchcraft, cherry wood is a popular choice for wands. Its magical associations include:
- The elements of both fire and water (plants are often dual element due to their connection to the sun, the earth, the rain, and the sky.)
The cherry tree is well known in Japan as a symbol of birth and death, the fleeting ephemeral beauty of life, and the sacrifice of a devoted warrior or protector, including milk-curses (wet nurses) who gave their lives for the children they looked after.
Home and Hearth
If you’re lucky enough to have a cherry tree or live near cherry trees, look out for the amazing amount of nature they attract. In one day I’ve seen pigeons, doves, blackbirds, starlings, thrushes, butterflies, moths, hoverflies, crane flies, and squirrels, all attracted by the sweet fruit and a lofty place to rest and roost.
I Never Knew…
In Victorian flower language or floriography, white cherry blossoms were associated with lies and deception.
About the Author:
Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.