Using Wild Cherry Bark as a Natural Remedy for Cough, Colds, and More

Man coughing
White Packert/Getty Images

Wild cherry bark is a natural substance extracted from the inner bark of the cherry (Prunus serotina) tree. Long used as a herbal remedy by Native Americans for coughs and congestion, you can now find it in syrup, capsule, and tea form.

Uses for Wild Cherry Bark

Thought to treat colds and suppress coughs, wild cherry bark is an ingredient in some cough syrups, cough drops, and lozenges.

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

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.

An extract of the bark is sometimes used in hair products to help with hair growth and to condition hair.

Purported Health Benefits of Wild Cherry Bark

Despite its long history of use, few studies have explored wild cherry bark and its possible health benefits. However, in one preliminary study published in the journal Oncology Reports in 2006, scientists discovered that wild cherry bark shows promise in protecting 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.

Possible Side Effects

Due to a lack of research, little is known about the safety of using wild cherry bark supplements.

The compound prunasin in wild cherry bark breaks down to produce the chemicals hydrocyanic acid and benzaldehyde and could be potentially toxic when taken by mouth (due to the risk of cyanide poisoning, especially if taken in larger amounts or for longer than brief periods).

While some experts suggest limiting use to no more than 10 days, you should speak with your healthcare provider before using wild cherry bark to discuss whether it would be appropriate and safe for you.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women shouldn't use wild cherry bark.

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.

Keep in mind that supplements haven't been tested for safety and dietary supplements are largely unregulated. In some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the specified amount for each herb. In other cases, the product may be contaminated with other substances such as metals.

Where To Find It

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

A Word of Caution About Using Wild Cherry Bark

Although it can be tempting to want to try wild cherry bark to ease coughs, colds, and other ailments, there's not enough research yet to support its safe use. If you're still considering trying it, be sure to talk with your primary care provider first to see if it's appropriate and safe for you to use.

Some research suggests that other natural substances may help alleviate coughs. For instance, there's some evidence that honey may help decrease the frequency and severity of coughs.

In addition, garlic, elderberry, ginger, and mullein may help soothe certain cold symptoms.

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.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

View Article 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.