What they are: Cherries are part of the rose family, along with other stone fruits like peaches, plums, nectarines, and apricots. (Also almonds.) The Romans discovered the small fleshy fruits in Asia Minor around 70 BC — the name cherry comes from the Turkish town of Cerasus. The Romans introduced cherries to Britain in the first century AD and they first appeared on North American shores with English colonists in the 1600’s. There are more than 1,000 varieties of cherries in the United States, but the two kinds that are commonly eaten are the sweet cherry Prunus avium and the sour cherry Prunus Cerasus.
What to do with them: Cherries should be shiny, plump, and firm, with fresh, light green stems. Sour cherries and Bing cherries can range from bright, vibrant red to nearly black-purple. Rainier cherries — a cultivar of cherry developed in 1952 at Washington State University and named after Mount Rainier — are blush tinged whitish-yellow. Loosely cover and refrigerate unwashed cherries for up to one week. Cherries have a brief season, but freeze particularly well. To freeze cherries, wash, dry, stem and pit the cherries and place in resealable plastic freezer bags. Use cherries to make jams, sorbets, compotes, pies, salsas, and sauces.
Health benefits: Tart cherries are a great source of natural melatonin, a hormone that helps to lower your body temperature, which in turn, helps us fall asleep. This remedy is used by many folks who are trying to reduce their use of over-the-counter sleep aids. Just an ounce in the morning and again in the evening has been reported to help you sleep more soundly.
Another benefit - sweet cherries pack a lot of potassium, which helps to reduce blood pressure. A cup of sweet cherries has just about the same amount of potassium of a small banana. Potassium helps balance the blood pressure by offsetting sodium levels, which raise blood pressure.
Tart cherry juice is also helpful in the treatment of gout and other inflammations. Sweet and tart cherries are useful here in lowering uric acid levels, as well as reducing C-reative protein, a marker of inflammation. Drinking 8 ounces of tart cherry juice or eating about 2 cups of sweet cherries will help achieve this goal.