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Laurel Cherry

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  • Botanical: Prunus laurocerasus
  • Family: Rosaceae
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Laurel Cherry

Botanical

Prunus laurocerasus

Family

Rosaceae

Known as

Laurel Cherry, Prunus laurocerasus, English laurel, Lorbeerkirsche,

Collection Times

April to June

Parts Used

fruit, leaves

Medicinal

asthma, coughs

Properties

antispasmodic, narcotic, sedative

Description

Prunus laurocerasus is an evergreen shrub or small to medium-sized tree, growing to 5 to 15 metres (16 to 49 ft) tall, rarely to 18 metres (59 ft), with a trunk up to 60cm broad. The leaves are dark green, leathery, shiny, (5–)10–25(–30)cm long and 4–10cm broad, with a finely serrated margin. The leaves can have the scent of almonds when crushed.

The flower buds appear in early spring and open in early summer in erect 7–15cm racemes of 30–40 flowers, each flower 1cm across, with five creamy-white petals and numerous yellowish stamens. The fruit is a small cherry 1–2cm broad, turning black when ripe in early autumn.

Properties & Uses

Very tolerant of trimming, this plant makes an excellent hedge especially in shady areas. Some forms of this plant, notably 'Cherry Brandy', 'Otto Luyken', 'Zabelina' and 'Schipkaensis' are low-growing and make very good ground cover plants for sun or shade. Water distilled from the leaves is used in perfumery.

The bruised leaves, when rubbed within any container, will remove strong odours such as garlic or cloves so long as any grease has first been fully cleaned off. A green dye can be obtained from the leaves. A dark grey to green dye can be obtained from the fruit. Wood - pinkish grey. Used in turnery and lathe work

Traditional Use

The fresh leaves are antispasmodic, narcotic and sedative. They are of value in the treatment of coughs, whooping cough, asthma, dyspepsia and indigestion. Externally, a cold infusion of the leaves is used as a wash for eye infections. There are different opinions as to the best time to harvest the leaves, but they should only be used fresh because the active principles are destroyed if the leaves are dried.

Although no specific mention has been seen for this species, all members of the genus contain amygdalin and prunasin, substances which break down in water to form hydrocyanic acid (cyanide or prussic acid). In small amounts this exceedingly poisonous compound stimulates respiration, improves digestion and gives a sense of well-being

Cautions

All parts of the plant contain hydrogen cyanide, a poison that gives almonds their characteristic flavour. This toxin is found mainly in the leaves and seed and is readily detected by its bitter taste. It is usually present in too small a quantity to do any harm but any very bitter seed or fruit should not be eaten. In small quantities, hydrogen cyanide has been shown to stimulate respiration and improve digestion, it is also claimed to be of benefit in the treatment of cancer. In excess, however, it can cause respiratory failure and even death.

Distribution

Asia Minor; cultivated in Europe.

Constituents

Prulaurasin (laurocerasin) is the chief constituent of the leaves. This has been obtained in long, slender, acicular, bitter crystals, closely resembling amygdalin, but not identical with it.