Description: Natural Order, Rosaceae; sub-order, Drupaceae. This is the lofty black cherry tree of the American forests, the dark-red wood of which receives an excellent polish, and is valued by cabinet makers. Gray applies this name to the small choke-cherry, and calls the black cherry by the technical name Prunus serotina. Bark thick, reddish, fragrant, with a rough dark corticle separating in narrow layers. Leaves oblong-lanceolate, tapering, serrate with short and incurved teeth, thick, smooth, dark green, shining, three to four inches long. Flowers small, white, rosaceous, many stamened, in long racemes. Fruit a small, round, black cherry, with a round and smooth drupe, pleasantly vinous, yet leaving a slightly bitter taste. Blooming in May, ripening its fruit in August and September.
The inner bark of this tree has long been a popular remedy. Like the leaves of peach and the kernels of almonds, (both of which are in the same Family with the cherry,) it is accused of containing prussic acid; but, like them, it contains no such poison in its natural state, nor can any be obtained from it till a process of fermentation has changed the original constitution of its elements. This fact has already been explained in the articles on amygdalus. This bark has a flavor similar to peach leaves, and a pleasant and very mildly bitter taste. Cold water, warm water, and diluted alcohol, extract its virtues readily; but its better qualities are volatile, and are readily dissipated by heat.
Properties and Uses: This bark is a mild and soothing tonic, slightly astringent. It is chiefly valued for the soothing influence which accompanies its tonic action; for while it gently improves appetite, digestion, and the general strength, it quiets nervous irritability and arterial excitement. This soothing power is attributed to the prussic acid it is said to contain, and marvelous accounts are given of its many times reducing the pulse to fifty or less; but, as above shown, it contains no prussic acid, and there is no ground for believing that it ever reduces the pulse below the normal standard. For chronic gastritis with indigestion, convalescence from typhoid and other low conditions, the irritable nervousness of hectic, and similar cases, it is not surpassed by any tonic; and will be received by the stomach when most other tonics are objectionable, and improve the strength without inducing feverishness. The lungs are much acted on by it; and it is a superior article for irritable coughs, whether acute or chronic. Depressed and sluggish conditions of the system never call for its use. The astringent impression it exerts is scarcely noticeable; yet is fairly marked if the bark is boiled, when the soothing and volatile qualities will be almost entirely driven off, and an unpleasant astringent quality be left behind. Outwardly, it makes a soothing and cleansing application to irritable and weak sores, especially those of a scrofulous character; and I have employed it to most admirable advantage in painful ulcers following medium burns, and in inflamed and painful chancres, especially in combination with nymphea.
The simplest and best method of using it for tonic purposes, is to macerate half an ounce of the well-crushed bark in half a pint of cold water for four hours; of which a fluid ounce may be given every four or three hours. The U. S. Pharmacopoeia directs half an ounce of the bark to a pint of cold water, and maceration for twenty-four hours; but such length of treatment is certainly inconvenient, and (in warm weather) would assuredly develop prussic acid, and then the infusion would indeed be sedative to brain and pulse. By percolation, the strength of the bark may be obtained sufficiently well in an hour, and may also be made stronger than by maceration. Boiling or hot water should never be used on this bark.
Pharmaceutical Preparation: Sirup. Moisten five ounces of coarsely powdered prunus with cold water, and let it stand twelve hours, (or six hours in warm weather;) transfer to a percolator, and gradually add water till a pint of liquid has been obtained; to this add two pounds of refined sugar, in a bottle, and shake occasionally till the sugar is dissolved. This is the process of the U. S. Pharmacopoeia, except a reduction of the time of maceration from twenty-four hours. It is an elegant preparation, but requires to be kept in a very cool place. Used chiefly in coughs and other pectoral difficulties. Dose, two fluid drachms or more, generally in company with other expectorants. Prunus is frequently combined with the stimulating tonics, as cinchona and quassia.
The Physiomedical Dispensatory, 1869, was written by William Cook, M.D.
It was scanned by Paul Bergner at http://medherb.com