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Respiratory Herbs: Wild Cherry Bark Syrup

devon 4 Comments

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Respiratory Herbs: Wild Cherry Bark Syrup

Devon 4 Comments

Wild cherry bark’s antitussive qualities make it an exceptional herb to use in respiratory formulations with appropriate safety & herbal considerations. This fruity wild cherry bark syrup delivers sweet medicinal benefits and will help to soothe a hacking, spasmodic, barking cough.

Wild Cherry Bark (Prunus serotina) {NOTE: most varieties of cherry bark will have similar therapeutic actions}

Energetics: bark- slightly cool/dry

Therapeutic Actions: antitussive, expectorant, astringent, nervine, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory

Wild Cherry is certainly a familiar flavor for many of us, compliments of Luden’s cough drops.  I have distinct childhood memories of having a handful stashed away in my coat pocket to suck on while waiting for the bus on cold, wintery mornings.  I thought of wild cherry as a flavor rather than a medicine. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I thought about wild cherry bark in a medicinal context.

Photo by Rasbak, Wikimedia Commons

Wild Cherry Bark Medicinal Benefits

Childhood memories aside, wild cherry bark has place in the home apothecary.  Wild cherry is relevant to the respiratory system due to its profound antitussive (cough suppressing) actions.  While it is not advisable to suppress a productive, “wet” cough – the hot, barking cough or a frenzied, spasmodic (as seen in whooping cough) sufferer can find relief from the short term use of antitussives like cherry bark.  This action may also extend to suppressing the spasmodic aspects of a mild asthma attack.  Wild cherry bark appears to have action on involuntary (smooth) muscle tissue, such as that of the heart and uterus.  A syrup or decoction of the bark is said to slow and steady a rapid, fluttery heartbeat such as that observed during a fever during or recovery from illness.  This particular action may make wild cherry an appropriate choice for those prone to nervous heart palpitations and hyperventilation.  Additionally, the bark is considered a gastrointestinal tonic, and can be used medicinally for concerns of diarrhea and hemorrhoid.

Wild Cherry Bark Safety and Considerations

It is very important to understand the healing scope of herbs, and wild cherry bark is no exception.  Among its constituents is a cynanogenic glycoside which is largely credited for its sedative effects on smooth muscle tissue.  I mention this not to cause alarm, but to help inform your decision for use.  Herbalist Michael Tierra emphasizes that the “poison is in the dose” – which holds true with countless herbs and most FDA approved pharmaceuticals.  “Use modestly and briefly for its intended use” is my motto for virtually all herbs being taken to address acute complaints.  While the bark is widely considered safe for general use, I would advise against its use with small children, those with weak respiration or those whom are taking respiratory depressing medications (such as opioids).

FDA Disclosure

I am a trained herbalist with a degree in Complementary and Alternative Medicine, I am not, however, a doctor. Posts in this blog are for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Before using any herbs, check for appropriate dosage, drug interactions, and contraindications. Information contained herein is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prescribe. Please consult your primary care physician regarding your specific health concerns.

Beyond the safety aspects of wild cherry bark, one should also understand that it doesn’t have any quantifiable antimicrobial, immune stimulating or moistening benefits.  Therefore, this is an herb that I would use in a formula to address the particular needs of the whole person.  When choosing another herb(s) to formulate with, consider the action of wild cherry bark and how you want to compliment or direct that energy, then choose herbs accordingly.  For instance, I might formulate wild cherry bark with marshmallow (to moisten), Oregon grape root (anti-microbial), linden or hawthorn (anti-hypertensive), echinacea (immune stimulation), or ginger (for uterine cramping).

Wild Cherry Bark Identification

Wild cherry is found throughout most part of North America, and if you were to count its botanical “kissing cousins”, I am sure that cherry is in every state in some shape or form.  Wild cherries share many identifiable characteristics with cultivated cherries such as finely serrated, ovoid, green leaves, and lateral striation on the bark of new and sometimes older growth.  The inner bark is the most medicinally valuable, with some sources indicating that fall is the best season to harvest.  Many sources indicate to avoid leaves (due to the cyanogenic glycoside content; associated with livestock poisoning), while others have used them with no ill effects. This is not an endorsement of leaf use – please due your own research and reach your own conclusion accordingly.  The wild cherry fruit is considered especially sour, but may make good edible forage when transformed into jams and jellies.   Should you not feel the intrepid forager, wild cherry bark is often found in the bulk sections of health food stores and from online sources.Wild Cherry Bark & Medicinal Syrup

As noted above, wild cherry is perhaps best included as a part of a greater formula that addresses an individual’s complaints and constitution rather than as a solitary “simple” remedy.  This wild cherry bark syrup allows for other herbs be used to compliment wild cherry bark’s therapeutic action.  It is worth noting some practitioners, particularly in the Ayurvedic tradition, associate heated honey (or sugar, for that matter) with production of ama — essentially toxic mucus (this is greatly simplified and not a good translation, mind you).  As such, I would not really recommend this, or any syrup for that matter, for daily long term use.  However, for short term use and to address acute concerns, I find it to be a very effective and fast acting remedy.  As for the shelf stability of this syrup, I am going to officially tell you to store your syrup in the refrigerator and use with six months.  That said, this syrup is extremely viscous and honey-like and will need to be brought to room temperature to pour.  Unofficially, I have chosen this “rich syrup” sugar/water ratio and the addition of lemon juice reduce its overall “microbial potential” should it not be refrigerated (however you store it, discard if off flavors or aromas develop or if mold appears).  I did select to use organic cherry juice as the liquid component of this recipe, however you may chose water if you are inclined — the juices lend a particularly pleasing flavor to the final wild cherry bark syrup.  As for dosage, I find that one teaspoon of wild cherry bark syrup is effective for an adult and while a scant quarter to half a teaspoon is helpful with a child.

Interested in learning more about 50 common wild medicinal plants?  Check out my new book The Backyard Herbal Apothecary!

Wild Cherry Bark Syrup Recipe

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4 from 1 vote

Wild Cherry Bark Syrup for Spasmodic Cough

This fruity wild cherry bark syrup employs the extraordinary antitussive and lightly sedative actions of wild cherry bark to deliver sweet medicinal benefits.


  • 1 cup organic cherry juice or water (plus a bit more to adjust after decoction step)
  • .5 ounce wild cherry bark
  • .5 ounce herb(s) of your choice
  • 2 cups organic sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice


  • Simmer cherry juice (or water) with wild cherry bark and any other herbs for 15 minutes.  Strain and discard herbs, and adjust liquid to measure one full cup.
    In a medium saucepan, add the herbal cherry decoction, sugar and lemon juice.  Bring to a low simmer over medium heat and continue cooking until the temperature reaches 230 degrees on a candy thermometer.
    Pour syrup into a sterile bottle and cool.  Refrigerate for up to six months.  Bring to room temperature for use.  One teaspoon for adult or half a teaspoon for a child every 4-6 hours for acute complaints.

Wild cherry bark's antitussive qualities make it an exceptional herb to use in respiratory formulations with appropriate safety & herbal considerations. This wild cherry bark syrup will help to soothe a hacking, spasmodic, barking cough.


Jeff McMillian, photos,

Eat the Planet,

The Medicine Women’s Roots,

East West School of Planetary Herbology,

Wood, Matthew. (2016). Earthwise herbal repertory: traditional western herbalism. Place of publication not identified: North Atlantic Books.

Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism: the science and practice of herbal medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.


Devon is a writer and author on subjects of holistic and sustainable living. She has a degree in Complementary and Alternative Medicine from the American College of Healthcare Sciences, and her first book, The Backyard Herbal Apothecary, was published by Page Street Publishing in Spring 2019. Devon's work outside of can be seen at,,, and in the magazine The Backwoods Home. Devon's second book, The Herbalist's Healing Kitchen, will be published Fall 2019.

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  • DavetteB January 22, 2017 at 4:57 am

    4 stars
    Are choke cherries truly cherries or some other berry?
    Just checking since we do have them here in AK. A few
    friends use them for wine making. If not, I can always
    order some. Just started making syrups last fall.

    • Devon January 22, 2017 at 7:29 pm

      Hi Davette! Yes, chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) is a cherry too. The constituent profile might vary slightly from wild cherry (Prunus serotina), but the therapeutic actions will be very similar. I would be very comfortable using the chokecherry inner bark for this recipe and other wild cherry uses. Thanks for commenting. I love hearing from folks using what is available in their area for edible and medicinal uses!

  • Omqofut October 28, 2018 at 3:20 am

    What would you suggest for the “other” herb?

  • Mickey Louth December 8, 2019 at 7:32 pm

    So happy to hear chokecherry can be used! It is so prolific here in northern Maine. I am looking to see what is local to me for medicine making. ..we might not always be able to order what doesn’t grow locally.

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    Meet the Nitty Gritty Mama, Devon!

    I am an herbalist, farmer, cook, and forager. I get my hands dirty and am not afraid to do things the "hard way". Sharing my Nitty Gritty Life with you! Read More



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