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Wild Cherry Bark

What Should I Know About It?

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Updated November 13, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Wild cherry bark is a natural substance sold in supplement form. Extracted from the bark of the Prunus serotina tree (a plant native to eastern North America), wild cherry bark has long been used in herbal medicine.

Uses for Wild Cherry Bark

Said to treat colds and suppress coughs, wild cherry bark is also used as an ingredient in cough syrups.

Its active constituents are believed to include the tannins, scopoletin, and cyanogenic glycosides, such as prunasin, which may help to reduce inflammation, relieve spasms in smooth muscles, and have an astringent effect on tissues.

Along with coughs and colds, wild cherry bark is typically touted as a natural treatment for the following health problems:

In addition, wild cherry bark is said to alleviate pain and stimulate the digestive system. Some proponents also claim that wild cherry bark can help prevent cancer.

Benefits of Wild Cherry Bark

Despite its long history of use in certain systems of traditional medicine (including traditional Chinese medicine), there is currently a lack of research on the health effects of taking wild cherry bark. However, in one preliminary study published in the journal Oncology Reports in 2006, scientists discovered that wild cherry bark shows promise for protection against colorectal cancer.

For the study, researchers tested the anti-cancer effects of wild cherry bark and horehound (Marubium vulgare) in a series of laboratory experiments involving human colorectal cancer cells. Results revealed that both substances suppressed the growth of cancer cells and helped induce apoptosis (a type of programmed cell death essential for stopping the proliferation of cancer cells). In addition, the study determined that wild cherry bark (as well as horehound) offers anti-inflammatory benefits.

Although the study's authors note that wild cherry bark may hold potential as a cancer-preventing agent, more research is needed before wild cherry bark can be recommended for cancer prevention.

Is Wild Cherry Bark Safe?

Due to a lack of research, little is known about the safety of using wild cherry bark supplements. However, there's some concern that wild cherry bark may be harmful to people with liver or kidney disorders. In addition, wild cherry bark may have sedative effects.

It's also important to note that self-treating a chronic condition with wild cherry bark and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences. If you're considering the use of wild cherry bark in treatment of a chronic condition, make sure to consult your physician prior to starting your supplement regimen.

Alternatives To Wild Cherry Bark

If you're seeking a natural remedy for coughs and colds, there are number of herbs found to offer cold-fighting effects in scientific studies. For instance, research indicates that garlic, elderberry, ginger, and mullein may help soothe certain cold symptoms.

When taken as soon as cold symptoms set in, remedies like echinacea and astragalus may help stimulate your immune system and shorten the duration and severity of colds. Drinking plenty of water (and herbal tea), getting sufficient sleep, and following a balanced diet high in vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables may also help shore up your immune system when you're dealing with a cold.

Where To Find Wild Cherry Bark

Widely available for purchase online, wild cherry bark is sold in many natural-foods stores and in stores specializing in dietary supplements.

Sources

Yamaguchi K, Liggett JL, Kim NC, Baek SJ. "Anti-proliferative effect of horehound leaf and wild cherry bark extracts on human colorectal cancer cells." Oncol Rep. 2006 Jan;15(1):275-81.

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