While their tart flavor might not be to everyone’s liking, sour cherries (Prunus cerasus) possess rather amazing healing properties that go beyond our wildest imagination. Research on its health benefits has found that eating raw sour cherries can help improve a wide range of medical conditions. The fruit was found to possess both antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory compounds as well as contain powerful antioxidants.
The antioxidants in sour cherries, together with the anti-inflammatory compounds, are believed to play a key role in cancer prevention. Moreover, sour cherries are thought to aid in the prevention of other forms of chronic disease such as coronary heart disease, cataract or stroke and help reduce high blood cholesterol and overall inflammation levels in the body. The good vitamin and mineral content of the fruit makes it a great tonic food with energizing properties.
What do sour cherries look like? Sour cherries are round, fleshy and juicy fruit about the size of sweet cherries, with a single round, light-colored seed in the middle and soft, thin, usually red or crimson skin. Yellow or orange-tinted sour cherries also exist. As with all fruits and vegetables, color is an important indicator of nutrients and antioxidants. For instance, while red sour cherries are rich in anthocyanins, yellow or orange varieties have little of those, but more carotenes. The tree has pointy, slightly elongated green leaves and a often downward facing branches due to the heavy clusters of fruit weighing it down. Sour cherries are also known as tart cherries.
What do sour cherries taste like? Just as their name says, sour cherries taste sour. The more acidic the fruit, the healthier they are. While baking them in a delicious pie may sound like a good idea, the only way to fully enjoy the health benefits they provide is to eat them raw, freshly picked out of the tree. Whenever I want to indulge on more than a handful, I pick the fruit, rinse them in cold water, put them in a bowl, pop open a few to let the juices flow, add 3-4 spoonfuls of raw acacia honey and let them all rest for 20 minutes or so. The sweetness of the honey not only compliments the tart flavor of the sour cherries, but is also very soothing and healthy (find out more about your favorite honey variety on the honey page).
What about the benefits?
Out of a sea of uses, I give you the top 6 nutrition facts and health benefits of sour cherries:
1) Improve sleep. Sour cherries are a good source of melatonin, a hormone derived from an essential amino acid known as tryptophan. Melatonin is responsible for timing sleep, that is helping us go to sleep when night comes. For this reason it is currently being used as a food supplement for people suffering from sleep disorders such as insomnia or disturbed sleep. However, you never know what you actually get when you purchase all kinds of food supplements, so why not get your melatonin from natural food sources such as tomatoes, grapes, sour cherries or a hot cup of St John’s wort tea.
2) Protect against oxidative stress. Sour cherries are an incredibly rich source of powerful antioxidants known as anthocyanins. Basically, anthocyanins are natural plant pigments responsible for all shades of red, blue or purple in plants of all sorts. Anthocyanins give sour cherries their beautiful deep red color as well as offer antioxidant protection to cells and DNA, preventing free radical damage buildup that may lead to cancer, heart disease and other forms of chronic disease. Other potent antioxidants found in sour cherries are quercetin, vitamins A and C, melatonin and beta-carotene.
3) Reduce inflammation. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), sour cherries possess quite an amazing anti-inflammatory activity, comparable to that of modern day aspirin (Antioxidant and antiinflammatory activities of anthocyanins and their aglycon, cyanidin, from tart cherries. February 1999).
People suffering from stomach ulcers or sensitive to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication are thus advised to introduce sour cherries in their diet to get the same long-term results as if they had been taking aspirin. Over time, regular sour cherry consumption should help with muscle and joint pain management and even improve painful conditions such as arthritis or rheumatism. What is better than a natural pain reliever?
4) Lower blood cholesterol and help prevent coronary heart disease and cataracts. Sour cherries are a rich source of Quercetin, a flavonoid and natural plant pigment currently used for the treatment of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), high blood cholesterol levels and other conditions having to do with the circulatory system as well as cataract and diabetes.
Quercetin is both an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory and eating sour cherries regularly can provide you with more than sufficient amounts of it as well as protection against heart disease and circulation problems. The fruit is also a good source of dietary fiber (1.6 g), indigestible plant material that binds to fat in the intestinal tract and prevents it from being absorbed and raising bad blood cholesterol levels.
5) Relieve constipation, diarrhea and regulate blood sugar. As mentioned above, sour cherries have 1.6 g of dietary fiber per 100 g of pulp. Such an amount not only aids in the digestion process, but also acts as a mild natural laxative, adding bulk to stools which facilitates their passing through the digestive tract. Pectin, a type of dietary fiber found in sour cherries, also helps treat both constipation and diarrhea, the latter by adding consistency to liquid stools. The fruit was found to help regulate blood glucose (sugar) levels and, in time, reduce the risks for metabolic syndrome.
6) Excellent tonic properties. Sour cherries are quite the nutritious fruit, rich in both antioxidants and dietary nutrients, particularly vitamins A and C. Both vitamins are famous for their immunity boosting properties, as well as for ensuring good eyesight, increasing iron absorption, reducing inflammation, preventing atherosclerosis by keeping blood vessels clean and protecting against oxidative stress and related diseases.
I was never fond of sour cherries as a child, but I came to love them as I grew up. Now that I have my own sour cherry tree in my backyard I can honestly say that I can barely wait for summer so I can enjoy bowls and bowls of fresh fruit with sweet acacia honey and make delicious banana, raspberry and sour cherry smoothies. Nevertheless, know that eating as little as a handful of raw sour cherries might give you a bit of a dry mouth sensation or sensitize your teeth, causing you to wince as soon as you try to chew on a few more fruit. There’s also the potential for allergic reactions and anaphylactic shock, a more serious side effect. So if you know or suspect you have an allergy to sour cherries, avoid consumption of the fruit in all forms and preparations and have an allergy test to confirm the allergy, or not.