Cherishing Cherries

Cherries (Prunus avium) share their genus with plumsapricotspeaches, nectarines, and almonds. These plants are in the Rosaceae family, along with strawberriesblackberriesraspberries, quinces, apples, pears, and ornamental trees and shrubs (such as roses, meadowsweets, photinias, firethorns, rowans, and hawthorns).

Cherries are native to the temperate areas of eastern Asia Minor, in the fertile area between the Black and Caspian Seas, and were probably carried to Europe by birds. Cherry cultivation dates back to 300 BC, making them one of the world’s oldest cultivated fruits, along with their cousins, apricots.

Cultivation of sweet cherries likely began with Greeks, and later Romans, who valued the tree’s timber as well as its fruit. Their name comes originally from the Greek kerasos, which in turn derives from the Assyrian karsu. The Latin name means “fruit of the birds.” Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Chinese loved cherry trees for their beautiful flowers and their versatile fruit.

Although a different species of cherry was already strongly established in America by the time the first colonists arrived, sweet cherries came to America in 1629 with English colonists, and later to California with Spanish missionaries. French colonists from Normandy brought pits that they planted along the Saint Lawrence River and on down into the Great Lakes area. Cherry trees were part of the gardens of French settlers as they established Detroit, Vincennes, and other mid-western settlements. Eventually the European varieties were cross-bred with the American varieties.

Modern-day cherry production began in the mid-19th century. In 1847, Henderson Lewelling planted an orchard in Western Oregon, using nursery stock that he had transported by ox cart from Iowa. Lewelling Farms became known for its sweet cherries during the 1870s and 1880s. The most famous sweet cherry variety is the Bing cherry, which developed by Lewelling in 1875 and named for one of the orchard’s Manchurian foreman. The most popular variety is the Bing cherry, which was developed by Seth Luelling od Milwaukie, Oregon in 1875. Another sweet cherry variety, the Lambert, also got its start on Lewelling Farms. The Rainier cherry, a light sweet variety, originated from the cross breeding of the Bing and Van varieties by Dr. Harold W. Fogle at the Washington State University Research Station in Prosser, Washington. The Bing, Lambert, and Rainier varieties together account for more than 95% of the Northwest sweet cherry production. There are now thousands of varieties of cherries and most are still picked by hand.

Today, 90 percent of the commercial cherry crop is grown in the US, mostly in Michigan, Oregon and Washington. Michigan grows about 75% of the tart cherry crop. Oregon and Washington harvest about 60% of the sweet cherry crop. Other states with commercial cherry crops are Utah, Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania, and California.

Cherries can:

  1. Build strong bodies. The vitamin C in cherries helps produce collagen, which supports strong bones, muscles, blood vessels, gums, mucous membranes, corneas, joints, and other supporting cells and tissues, and helps you absorb iron and calciumPotassium in cherries regulates muscle contraction and nerve transmission, stores carbohydrates for muscles to use as fuel, and promotes regular muscle growth. It also maintains proper electrolyte and acid-base (pH) balance and maintains the density and strength of bones by decreasing urinary calcium loss. Coumarin in cherries may prevent osteoporosis (reduced bone mineral density). Rutin in cherries helps your body use vitamin C and maintain collagen, treats hay fever, oral herpes, cirrhosis, cataracts, and glaucoma, and can be useful in treating rheumatic diseases such as gout, arthritis, edema, hemorrhoids, and inflammatory bowel disease.
  2. Fight free radicals. The vitamin C in cherries functions as an antioxidant and prevents oxygen-based damage to your cells. It also helps return vitamin E to its active form. The distinctive deep red pigment cherries are known for comes from phytochemicals called flavonoids that act as antioxidants and help fight free radicals in your body. Peonidin in raw cherries is a powerful antioxidant that fights damaging free radicals, and may fight inflammation and cancer. Catechins in raw cherries are potent antioxidants that help promote anti-diabetic effects in insulin resistance, and provide significant protection against Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
  3. Fight cancer. The vitamin C in cherries helps prevent cancer by neutralizing volatile oxygen free radical molecules and preventing damage to your DNA that can lead to cancer, by destabilizing a tumor’s ability to grow under oxygen-starved conditions, and by processing toxins for elimination. Perillyl alcohol in cherries slows the growth of liver and possibly other tumors by interfering with the division of cancer cells, and induces the cells to self-destruct. Coumarin in cherries may prevent cancer.
    Cyanidin is a flavonoid from the anthocyanin group found in cherries that helps keep cancerous cells from growing out of control. For cherries with the most anthocyanins, choose sweet cherries with the deepest pigment. Catechins in raw cherries can prevent tumor blood vessel growth.
  4. Support your immune system. The vitamin C in cherries supports your immune system and acts as an antihistamine. Coumarin in cherries may act as an analgesic (a substance that relieves pain), an anti-inflammatory, and an antisceptic (a substance that prevents the growth of disease-causing microorganisms), prevent the human immunodeficiency virus (a virus that is often abbreviated to HIV and causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) which ultimately destroys the immune system), and treat asthma (a respiratory disorder that causes breathing difficulties).
  5. Promote cardiovascular health.  Cherries contain significant amounts of both insoluble and soluble fiber, but are especially high in soluble fiber, which promotes and helps maintain healthy blood glucose and cholesterol levels. Potassium in cherries regulates heart rhythm and lowers blood pressure by counteracting the detrimental effects of sodium and regulating fluid balance. Coumarin in cherries may prevent arrhythmia (irregular heartbeats) and high blood pressure, and protect your capillaries from damage. Catechins in raw cherries protect against the development of atherosclerotic plaque buildups in arteries. Rutin in cherries can be helpful in reducing weakness in your blood vessels and the resultant hemorrhages, minimizes pain, bleeding, and bruising from injury, improves circulatory problems, including varicose veins and poor circulation, reduces serum cholesterol and oxidized LDL cholesterol, and lowers the risk of heart disease.
  6. Promote healthy skin and hair. The vitamin C in cherries helps regenerate skin tissue. and produce collagen.
  7. Prevent metabolic syndrome. Cyanidin in cherries fights cancer, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, inflammation, and free radicals.
  8. Help you maintain a healthy weight. Cherries make you feel full and keep you from overeating. One cup of cherries with pits contains only about 87 calories, 3 grams of fiber, and practically no fat.
  9. Improve digestive health. The fiber in cherries can help regulate the functioning of your digestive system and relieve constipation.
  10. Help you sleep. Tart cherries, in particular, contain melatonin, a hormone that helps make you feel sleepy. Two tablespoons of tart cherry juice before bed is just as effective as a melatonin supplement.

Nutrients in 100 Grams of Fresh, Raw Cherries

Nutrient

Amount

Daily Value

vitamin C

7 mg

12%

fiber

2.1 g

8%

potassium

222 mg

6%

carbohydrates

16 g

5%

manganese

0.1 mg

4%

vitamin K

2.1 µg

3%

copper

0.1 mg

3%

magnesium

11 mg

3%

Calories

63

3%

phosphorus

21 mg

2%

protein

1.1 g

2%

pantothenic acid

0.2 mg

2%

riboflavin

0.033 mg

2%

thiamine

0.027 mg

2%

iron

0.4 mg

2%

vitamin B6

0.049 mg

2%

vitamin A

64 IU

1%

niacin

0.2 mg

1%

calcium

13 mg

1%

folate

4 µg

1%

zinc

0.1 mg

0.6%

vitamin E

0.1 mg

0.3%

fat

0.2 g

0.3%

sodium

0 mg

0%

cholesterol

0 mg

0%

carotene-ß

38 µg

lutein-zeaxanthin

85 µg

Sweet cherries, including the popular Bing and Rainier varieties, are available from May to August. Taste cherries, if possible, before you buy them, because sweetness varies farm to farm and week to week. Look for shiny, plump cherries with fresh green stems and dark coloring for their variety.

Rinse cherries with cool water right before using or eating them. To pit cherries, pluck off the stem. Use a cherry pitter to remove the pits. If you don’t have a cherry pitter, you can use a toothpick, un-bent paper clip, or orange stick (as for manicures), and insert into the stem-end of the cherry. You should feel it hit the pit. Snag the pit and scoop it out. Sour cherries are the easiest to pit, but with a little practice with digging and twisting, this method is effective for sweet cherries, too. Use or freeze cherries immediately after pitting.

Here are some ideas for using fresh cherries:

  1. Eat them as is.
  2. Pit them and cut them in half, then dry them with either a food dehydrator (allow 12 hours or so) or in your oven on a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper at 140 degrees for 6-10 hours.
  3. Pit, halve, and add them as a colorful complement to a chickpea, tofu, or green salad.
  4. Juice them.
  5. Incorporate them into breads and muffins.
  6. Use the pits to create your own heating pads.

This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this website to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.

This blog is not a substitute for the services of a trained health professional. Although we provide nutritional information, the information on this blog is for informational purposes only. No information offered by or through this blog shall be construed as or understood to be medical advice or care. None of the information on this blog should be used to diagnose or treat any health problem or disease. Consult with a health care provider before taking any product or using any information on this blog. Please discuss any concerns with your health care provider.

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