Fire Cherry – Prunus Pensylvanica: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Bird Cherry of Wild Plants

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We’ve covered almost every native cherry in Ontario and this fire cherry, also called bird cherry for one, is no exception to the fact prunus spp. are fantastic for birds and other wildlife. And not just jam!

Pin cherry / Fire cherry (prunus pensylvanica) was common along roadsides, woodland slopes, lake banks, and stream banks in our area. I like the “fire” name because it refers to the fact it tends to colonize a space after a fire, like fireweed. The seeds can lie dormant in the soil for decades, maybe up to 100 years. It’s an “early succession species” that will eventually be overcome with forest in most cases. This is why I wrote “was common”. When Haliburton Flora was put together it was common, but we tend to keep fires at bay and even more of our woods have grown in. You’ll still mostly find it on banks, but I’ve only seen a couple plants so I’m guessing it’s probably now somewhere between uncommon to fairly common.

Fire Cherry - Prunus Pensylvanica
Fire Cherry – Prunus Pensylvanica

Edible Uses of Fire Cherry

Pin cherry could end up being the next superfood berry – there is some interest anyway. The fruit of course is edible and can be used in jams et al if you are willing to put in the work to strain away the pits without breaking the seeds – broken seeds will add bitterness. The sour red berries ripen a few weeks before chokecherries and black cherries do, and shortly after low bush blueberries.

For ambitious bakers, it’s wonderful mixed with other fruits in pies, fruit juices or leathers.

Medicinal Uses of Fire Cherry

Fire Cherry is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Integumentary

Medicinal tags include Astringent. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes the astringent inner bark for eye and mouthwashes and other typical astringent uses. Pin/fire cherry is one of the least if not the least used of our prunus spp. medicinally. See the others we’ve covered here, along with other plants from the same Rose family.

Alternative Uses of Bird Cherry

Pin cherry isn’t overflowing with craft uses but do you like birds? Cherries are 1/4 of the fall diet of cedar waxwings; it’s their preferred food! Rose breasted grosbeaks prefer it too. Lots of wild ones favour it. Having many prunus species on your property is a surefire way to attract more birds! As this one ripens first you can broaden your cherry season by planting a whole thicket of it.

Growing Prunus Pensylvanica

Many cherries (prunus SPP.) are available at Ontario’s native plant shops, including prunus pensylvanica! If so inclined, you can collect every native prunus! A great project for birdwatchers especially. Here are five native cherries to look for with links to ones we’ve written about:


And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

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