Čhaŋpȟá Tȟózi: Green Chokecherries

Čhaŋpȟáhu, Prunus americana, Chokecherry bush. Still completely green in mid-June.

One of the Lakota names for the moon month of July is Čhaŋpȟásapa wí, the moon when the chokecherries are black [ripe].

After the clusters of white flowers blossom in the spring, small green fruits appear. Over the next couple months, they get bigger. Then, under the warm summer sun, they begin to ripen — first to a bright red, and then slowly, to a purple-black. If you pick them too early, they are bitter or sour, and not very sweet. But the longer you wait, the the sweeter they become.

As you can see in these pictures, they are still green, without the slightest hint of a red blush. They are not even close to being  ready to pick, despite the fact that Čhaŋpȟásapa wí is right around the corner.

Due to climate change, the timelines for plant lifecycles in our area has shifted — some subtly, and some dramatically. In our area, you can get your first taste of chokecherries at the tail end of July, though they are still not very sweet. These days, I harvest the best best-tasting čhaŋpȟá in August and September.

The impacts of the shifting times for plant lifecycles are much bigger than the name of the month no longer accurately describing what is going on in the natural world. It can have a devastating effect on other species, plant and animal, who depend on these food sources, which are no longer available at the time when they need them, which can sometimes threaten another species with extinction. (The yucca flower and the yucca moth are a prime example — but that will be another post.)

A language note:
Čhaŋpȟáhu = Chokecherry bush.
Čhaŋpȟá = Chokecherry, the fruit.
There is a whole bunch of interesting vocabulary around chokecherries and their processing, because it is a very culturally important food.

I definitely have my favorite bushes to harvest from, and I’m guessing that other people do, too. There is tremendous variation in fruit size, sweetness, flavor, pectin content, and abundance, from bush to bush, although they don’t consistently produce a big crop from year to year…but that is another topic for another post!

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