Pies, fruity cocktails and banana splits are all better with a cherry on top. Especially during the summertime when cherries are in season, you can add the fruit to any meal for some extra sweetness.
But if you come across cherries in the wild, you may want to think twice before you pick a few from the tree. Although the most common wild cherries are safe to eat, it can be easy to confuse fruits in the forest.
Is It Safe to Eat Wild Cherries?
If you come across a cherry tree while on a summer hike, it can be tempting to pick and snack on a few fruits. Two common wild cherry trees in North America are the Black Cherry and Chokecherry, according to Eat the Planet.
- Black cherries: These are also known as mountain black cherries and are dark in color. You'll find them surrounded by leafy twigs of white flowers with five petals each.
- Chokecherries: Chokecherry trees are brown-black with berries that are lighter red in color. Like black cherries, chokecherries are surrounded by fragrant white flowers and leaves.
Generally, cherries are a safe fruit to eat but you'll want to avoid the fruit pits, bark, leaves and stem — as these parts of the plant can be toxic.
Yes, cherry pits contain cyanide, a type of toxin, but the poisonous part of the pit is actually encapsulated by the pit itself — so, generally, accidentally swallowing a pit probably won't cause any harm, according to the National Capital Poison Center. Just don't chew on or eat a crushed cherry pit.
Also, instruct kids to spit out the pits of fruit or take out the pits before serving to small children to prevent accidental consumption.
If you swallow a few pits and are concerned for your health or begin to feel symptoms of weakness, headache, confusion or nausea consult a medical professional immediately or call emergency services.
Why Eating Wild Fruit Is Risky
Although wild cherries are usually safe to eat, it can be easy to confuse them with other wild fruits or berries. Unless you're 100 percent sure the fruit you found is safe to eat, it's probably best to avoid eating any wild plants at all.
If you're on a hike with small children, keep an eye on any plants or berries they may see along the way. American Bittersweet berries, Cotoneaster berries and Holly berries look extremely similar to berries you may buy at the grocery store but can be dangerous if you eat them, according to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
Keep in mind that cherries are usually ripe between May and June, depending on the species. So, if you're outside in October and come across what looks like a cherry in the forest, you definitely won't want to eat any of the fruit.
It can be easy to confuse fruit in the wild. Unless you're 100 percent sure the fruit you're eating is a cherry, it's safest to leave the plant alone and buy your cherries at the store.