The very name of this berry is enough to make anyone stand back three feet and go, “you’re not eating THAT are you???” Yet anyone who has tried the fruit after proper preparation generally enjoys it. So why the scary name?!
Chokecherry gets it’s name because of the very tart flavour it has. This tartness is caused by a compound known as hydrocyanic acid. This hydro-cyanide compound is also known as anthocyanin and occurs not just in chokecherries, but in the pits of domestic cherries as well as almonds. In fact, crushing dried chokecherry adds an almond flavour to sauces, baking, etc.
Concentrations of hydrocyanic acid are low enough that eating a few berries raw won’t kill you, but for general enjoyment and long-term safety, it is strongly recommended to either boil the fruit for 5 minutes on the stove, or to sun-dry the berries in full sun until darn-near rock hard to neutralize the compound. This makes it safe to enjoy as much or as little of the berry as you wish.
Once properly prepared for use, chokecherry can be used in a wide variety of foods and applications anywhere you want an anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and high Vitamin C content. Of course for this particular berry, those three are just scratching the surface of the nutritional value of this amazing plant.
At Ashtree Wildcrafting, the leaves, which have just as wide a range of nutritional benefit, are the base upon which most of our teas are blended. Some tea houses use Rooibus as their base, others use oolong, or green tea or black tea as their base. We use Chokecherry leaves. Such a base lends a hint of fruity flavour and a warm mellow grassy tone as well, perfect for putting other flavours on top.
There are two primary breeds of chokecherry:
- The Pin chokecherry, which ripens to a dark red colour and is harvestable closer to the fall season.
- The Black chokecherry, which ripens to a dark, dark purple colour and is harvestable between July and August in more northern climates.
Both breeds grow across North America and Western Europe. Sometimes you will see the name “choke berry”, but while the plants look quite similar and the fruit tastes equally similar with similar compounds, they are two different genus of plants and the “chokeberry” only grows in Eastern North America and parts of Europe where it was imported. Both berries however can be used for the same purposes.
In our home, we love having chokecherry extract around to turn into juice, vinegar and pancake syrop, never mind all the teas we make from it as well.
Here are some links you can use to further your knowledge of this very useful and versatile berry: