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The Versatile, Do-Everything ‘Survival Berry’ The Native Americans Prized

The Versatile, Do-Everything ‘Survival Berry’ The Native Americans Prized

Image source: Cody Assmann.

The modern back-to-basics food movement has led many people to rediscover plants used for centuries in the past.

One particularly useful plant that grows in abundance around the country is the versatile chokecherry. Due to their quick and abundant growth, along with their tart berries, chokecherries have been planted in tree rows for wind protection, for wildlife habitat and for erosion control. Today they grow in a variety of climates and regions around the country. Odds are you may not be far from this useful berry.

The many uses of chokecherry were not lost on pioneers, Native Americans, and other people who lived off the land. Lewis and Clark even ate them on their journey. These valuable plants were cherished and visited often when they were ripe.

If you happen to discover chokecherries in your neighborhood, here are four ways you can put them to work:

1. Nutrition.

The Versatile, Do-Everything ‘Survival Berry’ The Native Americans Prized

Image source: Cody Assmann:.

These dark purple, red, or almost black berries are high in fiber and Vitamin K. Today, chokecherries are most often used in jellies, vinegar, syrups and juice. They can be easily processed, but do require the removal of the leaves, stems and pits. Each of these parts of the plant contain hydrocyanic acid, posing a significantly higher risk to livestock than people, as animals are more likely to consume large quantities of the leaves. However, there have been a few reported instances of children dying after consuming too many seeds.

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Native people across America routinely smashed the fruits, dried them thoroughly in the sun, and added them to a pemmican mixture. Even though the seeds were consumed by Native people, they lost their toxicity after drying. Anyone interested in this primitive process is advised to spend time with an expert on the subject and learn more about removing the toxins. Chokecherries are not a dangerous plant, and with more modern techniques you can easily and safely enjoy these bountiful fruits in a variety of ways.

2. Archery equipment.

Portions of the tree that develop acceptable girth can be tillered to make quality hunting bows. In fact, these bows are reputed to be some of the finest bow-making materials by many modern bowyers. A good hunting wood is hard to find, since it must have two important attributes. First, the wood must have the ability to withstand tension forces on the back of the bow. Also, at the same time the back in under tension forces, the belly of the bow is being compressed. Finding a wood capable of both forces is not easy, and chokecherry fits the bill nicely.

In addition to the ability to be made into bows, the young straight shoots can be cut and made into arrows. Similar to the wood needed to make bows, arrows need a wood with particular properties. The two biggest attributes wood need to be made into arrows are straightness and spine. Spine refers to the wood’s ability to bend upon the shot and then straighten out as it flies downrange. Finding a wood with just the right amount of spine is not always easy. It takes quite a bit of experience and know-how to construct bows and arrows, but even a novice who understands the basic concepts can create bows and arrows that serve their purpose marginally well.

3. Dye.

The Versatile, Do-Everything ‘Survival Berry’ The Native Americans Prized

Image source: Cody Assmann:.

If you’ve ever picked chokecherries, then you can attest to the potential for creating a dye with the fruit. The dye from chokecherry juice can be used to identify dye-wooden objects like arrows or bows, and cloth projects, as well. Although the dye will not keep you alive in a survival situation, it can definitely come in handy for projects down the road. To make a dye, simply collect an adequate amount of berries and fill a container.

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With the collected berries in the container, you need to pulp the fruit and create a mashed mix of juice and berries. Any item placed in this mixture will take on the beautiful pinkish red color of the dye. For lighter stains, leave the product in for shorter periods, and for deeper and darker stains leave it in the dye for longer.

4. Medicine.

True to form, the versatile chokecherry has a variety of medicinal uses, as well. In the past, dried berries were used to treat a variety of bowel conditions, from diarrhea to loss of appetite. It was also given in some form to people suffering from ulcers and other conditions of a weak stomach. Additionally, the bark is reported to be an outstanding remedy for respiratory ailments, such as a bad cough. As with using any plant medicinally, folks interested in this practice are encouraged to consult an expert in the subject.

If you plan on heading out to harvest some of the bounty chokecherries offer up, then make sure to take the time to learn how to correctly identify the plant. There is a toxic lookalike called common buckthorn. Once you learn a few rules to follow and how to identify a chokecherry, don’t be afraid to enjoy all the versatility it has to offer. Whether you are looking for a nutritious treat, a beautiful deep dye, archery gear, or to sooth a medical ailment, the chokecherry offers up a gift.

What other uses have you discovered? What advice would you add? Share it in the section below:

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or cure any particular health condition. Please consult with a qualified health professional first.

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