Chokecherry refers to the fruit of the tree Prunus virginiana, which grows in abundance in North America. These tiny cherries, generally about .4 inches (1 cm) in diameter when fully grown, are relatives to the black cherry. They’re often called Virginia bird cherries, since birds delight in eating them, but unless they are ripe, wild chokecherries often taste quite bitter and sour to humans.
Some varieties of chokecherries are more palatable than others, and the cultivated chokecherry is described as having a mildly sweet, cherry taste. With the addition of sugar, chokecherries are often used to make jam, syrup, and fruit pies. Chokecherry wine is somewhat comparable to wine made from grapes. The chokecherry is the state fruit of North Dakota.
You can find both Eastern and Western varieties of the chokecherry, and though they may attract birds, they’re often viewed as the bane of farmers, particularly those who grow fruit trees. Chokecherries tend to harbor pests like tent caterpillars, which, if they migrate to other fruit trees, can destroy crops. People who raise horses have to be certain that there are no chokecherries nearby, since the foliage is poisonous to horses, especially when the leaves are wilted. The wilting process causes the leaves to emit large amounts of cyanide, giving them a sweet flavor attractive to horses. If a horse eats about 10-11 pounds (about 5 kg) of wilted leaves, it can easily become poisoned.
Chokecherries may also be grown for their ornamental appeal. Wild cherry blossoms are some of the prettiest, and the trees produce them in abundance. If you do decide to grow chokecherries, you should know that they’re not a great choice if you have any kind of pets or young children. Not only leaves, but also bark, and flower are poisonous as well. Though poisoning cases with the chokecherry are rare, there is still a risk.
You should be aware that the chokecherry's pit, like the pits of peaches and nectarines, release cyanide when cooked. The cherries should be pitted prior to use so the pits aren’t accidentally consumed. Once pits are removed, chokecherries are safe to eat, and there are a variety of recipes springing up to capture their flavor. Among them you’ll find recipes for chokecherry jam, pie, smoothies, syrup, wine and liqueur.