North American Indian tribes use cherry seed for food source.

Uses for the cherry seed by North American Indians:

The name islay, or yslay is the Spanish version of the Salinan Native American name, “ slay”, and is the common name historically used by most Native Californian peoples to refer to the plant, the fruit, and the food made from the pits of Prunus ilicifolia (Harrington 1944).

Don Pedro Fages, in his account of the Gaspar de Portolá expedition from Spain in 1770, writes of the “good tamales” made from islay by the Salinan people (Fages 1937). Hartweg (1848), in his report to the London Horticultural Society, remarks about the abundance of islay in the Santa Lucia Mountains and reports, “the kernel, after being roasted and made into gruel, is a favourite dish amongst the [Salinan].”

The fruits were eaten both fresh and dried. The thin, sweet flesh was eaten sparingly as it was purported to upset the stomach if too much is consumed. The thin pulp was welcome moisture for thirsty hunters. The juice from the fruits was fermented and drunk. The kernels within the large pits were particularly valued for food by many Native Californians.

In the past, for some tribes, the kernels within these wild cherry pits were second only to acorns in importance. The fruit was usually hand picked from the trees. The fruits that were not consumed fresh were allowed to rot or sometimes placed in warm water in order to facilitate removal of pit. The pits were then rubbed to remove any remaining pulp and skin before being spread out in the sun to dry. When dry, the pits were cracked with a stone and the kernels ( cherry seed ) removed. The kernels contain hydrocyanic acid, a bitter tasting poisonous compound, which was removed by a leaching process prior to cooking.

The cherry seed, either left whole or pounded into a meal, were then leached in several changes of cold or warm water. The ground meal was used as a base for soup and made into tortilla or tamale-like foods. The whole kernels reportedly took several hours to cook. Sometimes the kernels were roasted overnight in a grass-lined pit (Bocek 1984).

After cooking the kernels were mashed and made into cakes or balls. The finished cakes were served with meat or dipped into pinole.

**Contributed by: USDA NRCS National Plant Data Center