It was an important food in pre-Columbian Mexico. Edible raw, the fruit is also made into jelly, and the juice can be used as a drink mixer, hence the common name 'rum cherry'. Prunus serotina timber is valuable.
The seeds of black cherries contain cyanogenic glycosides, compounds that can be converted into cyanide, such as amygdalin. These compounds release hydrogen cyanide when the seed is ground or minced, which releases enzymes that break down the compounds. In contrast, although the flesh of cherries also contains these compounds, it does not contain the enzymes needed to produce cyanide, so the flesh is safe to eat. The foliage, particularly when wilted, also contains cyanogenic glycosides, which convert to hydrogen cyanide if eaten by animals.
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