Bitter Cherry Trees, BC Coastal Region
The bitter cherry trees are small trees that grows up to 12 meters tall. It has a straight trunk, extending up to the narrow crown. The bark is is a reddish grey, peeling like paper birch. The leaves are small, oval shaped and tapered towards the tip, they are up to 8 cm long, greenish to yellow, thin, with uneven sized teeth on the edges. The bitter cherry fruit is eaten by many birds and small animals.
The bitter cherry tree blooms with small, white flowers in loose clusters of up to 10 in the spring. The berry is deep red, with a juicy but bitter flesh, up to 12 mm across. The bitter cherry grows throughout southern British Columbia and all of Vancouver Island. Bitter cherry is common in moist deciduous forests and open woods, along streams and on recently disturbed areas.
First peoples rarely ate the fruit of the bitter cherry because of its unpleasant taste. But because the bark is tough and waterproof, they peeled it off in long horizontal strips and used it for making baskets.
There are medicinal uses for the Bitter Cherry, the juice can be used to relieve gout, or taken to reduce muscle pain and inflammation from injuries, it can also improve bone strength and heart health. The bitter cherry tree produces a poison, hydrogen cyanide. This toxin is mainly found in the seeds and leaves and has a bitter taste. Hydrogen cyanide can stimulate respiration and is beneficial in the treatment of cancer. Used wrong though and it can make one quite ill and in some case’s cause death. Please do not try any natural medicines unless you are sure of the process of its use.