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Wild cherry

Loosens phlegm, an airway cleaner

Early colonial settlers didn't have the option of running down to the corner drugstore for cough syrup or an expectorant when their kids had a cold. Instead, they stripped bark from a wild cherry tree, steeped it in hot water and offered it to their children as a hot, soothing beverage.

Today, not much has changed. Parents can run down to the corner drugstore for a bottle of cough syrup, all right. But chances are that the bottle is still going to contain wild cherry.

"Wild cherry is a flavoring agent that has a slight expectorant activity," says James E. Robbers, Ph.D., professor of pharmacognosy in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, and editor of the Journal of Natural Products. It contains benzaldehyde, a substance that loosens phlegm.

Generally, other ingredients with a more intense chemical activity are included in wild cherry cough syrups to boost the cherry's natural abilities and to provide the actual cough suppressant, says Dr. Robbers.

Putting the herb to work

Although the bottled variety of wild cherry cough syrup is more effective than wild cherry tea, the tea can be soothing to someone who's not feeling well.

If you'd like to make some tea, place one teaspoonful of wild cherry bark or leaves in a cup of boiling water. Steep for ten minutes and strain. Add honey, sugar or lemon to taste and enjoy. When using a tincture, follow the package directions.

Just two caveats: Do not give wild cherry tea to children under age two, and do not drink more than three cups a day. Wild cherry leaves, bark and fruit pits all contain hydrocyanic acid, which can be toxic in large amounts.

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