fruit of the month: choke cherries

August Fruit of the Month: Chokecherries

Dakota: Can-pa

Lakota: Chanpha

August celebrates Chokecherries — a fruit that packs a punch! Chokecherries get their name from their bitter taste.

Wild chokecherry bushes or trees can be found across the United States in all but eight states or territories. The plant flowers from April to July before producing edible, sour fruits. Ripe chokecherries are black, ¼-½ inch round, and grow in clusters like grapes.

Wild chokecherries can be collected for making jams, jellies, pie fillings, syrups, sauces, and wines. (Make sure the plant is in an area that has not been sprayed with pesticides.)

Try these recipes:

  • Boil chokecherries and remove the seeds to make a pudding or syrup.
  • Remove the seeds and use the fresh fruit in muffin or pancake batter.

But be careful — parts of the chokecherry plant are poisonous when eaten raw! Although the fruits are edible raw, the leaves, seeds, and stems contain toxic quantities of hydrocyanic acid and should not be consumed unless properly treated. Either boil or dry the fruit and leaves to neutralize the acid.

Did you know…

Chokecherries were a staple for Native Americans that lived on the plains and prairies. They served as a food source, especially during the winter, and treated a variety of health problems.


The most important use was in pemmican which was made by combining dried meat, bone marrow, animal lard, and crushed chokecherries.

Fruit Balls

Whole chokecherries, including the pulp, skin, and stone, were smashed into a pulp, shaped into balls, and dried in the sun. 

Chokecherry Tea

A soothing, medicinal tea used by many Native American tribes in the U.S. and Canada.

Make it at home:

  1. Once a chokecherry bush or tree is identified, pick and clean the leaves.
  2. Refrigerate the leaves until you’re ready to prepare the tea. (Leaves can be dried for future use if stored in a clean container.)
  3. Bring water to a boil.
  4. Put a few leaves into the boiling water until you achieve the desired taste, or add 1 tbsp. of dried leaves per cup of boiling water.
  5. Simmer for 15 minutes and serve.
  6. Add sweetener if desired.

Recipe from Cheyenne River Tribal Extension, Eagle Butte, SD

Sources: USDA Chokecherry Plant Guide, SDSU Extension

Explore more Fruits & Veggies of the Month!