Chokecherries 101

Chokecherries, or Prunus Virginiana,  grow on shrubs and small trees all across  the U.S., except in the deep South. They are native to North America and are in the same genus as cherries and plums. They are best known for their exciting, sour and tangy flavor. Chokecherries are one of the most widely distributed woody species in North America and they boast many edible and medicinal properties. 

The entire berries are rich in antioxidants and flavonoids, which provide nutrients that help fight off allergies, viruses and even cancer-causing elements. Chokecherries also contain high amounts of quinic acid. While more research is being done, quinic acid may help reduce inflammation in the body and boost the effects of antioxidants.  

Dried chokecherries have been a staple food of Native people throughout history. Not only did they provide sustenance and nourishment, but they were also used in trading and social interactions among tribes and with traders.  

The ripe fruit of the chokecherry is usually cooked or dried, and the kernels can be used to make pemmican or Lakota wasna. The Jicarilla Apache people used ground chokecherries that were pressed and dried into “cakes” to provide nourishment during cold, winter months. The roots and bark of chokecherries were also used to make tea, while the stems were often weaved into baskets. 

The small, round crimson cherries can be used for wine, juice, syrup and jelly. SweetGrass currently offers two popular products, chokecherry jelly and chokecherry syrup. These can be used as a dessert filling or topping, added to pancakes or waffles, or even on top of a scoop of ice cream. Wild chokecherries can also be boiled with sugar to make wojape.  

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