Sour Cherries: The Unknown Superfruit
by Rob Sproule, July 30, 2013
This topic is as close to my heart as it is to my stomach. With a dozen sour cherry trees in my yard, I’m always eager to rave about the tart treasures of Alberta.
Every summer we eagerly expect woven baskets of B.C. cherries to sprout across supermarket shelves. What we may not expect is that, hidden in backyards across our cold prairies, there’s homegrown and healthier alternative.
Sour Cherries 101
Sour cherries (Prunus cerasus) are thought to have originated in the Caucasus as natural hybrids between sweet (P. avium) and Mongolian cherries (P. fruticosa). They’ve been a favourite across millennia from Babylon to London with dozens of cultivars bred during the reign of Henry XIII alone.
British and French settlers were keen to bring them across the pond and planted the first trees in Minnesota during the 1600s. Although Eastern Europe and Western Asia are the world’s commercial growing leaders , Canadians (especially those of us in chilly Zone 3) adore them for the tenacity of not only surviving frigid winters, but of emerging all-the-more spectacular in spring.
Sweet vs. Sour
B.C. grown cherries have become an icon of Albertan summers. While I grant that sour cherries will probably never be as lip-smackable as their Okanagan cousins, sours have many advantages that sweet just can’t beat.
Besides their outstanding and often downright baffling cold hardiness, sour cherry trees are easier to grow than sweet trees. They tolerate wet soils better and have built-in immunity against pests and diseases that plague B.C. growers. Sour cherries’ most pernicious pests are hungry birds, and who can blame them!
Sour cherry trees are self fertile, so you can grow more by deftly scattering left-over cherry pits through the yard. The resultant trees will generally be “true”, which means that, unlike most hybridized trees, they won’t surprise you with strange flavoured fruit.
Lastly, while sweet cherries are ideal for eating fresh, cooking turns their taste turns to mush. Firmer sour cherries are versatile for pies, jams, drying, freezing, or any other creative use you can conjure.
Native Americans discovered sour cherries’ medicinal properties centuries ago and ate them to calm upset stomachs and relieve sore throats. As we dig into the cherry’s chemistry, we’re finding that this is only the beginning of its extraordinary health benefits.
The cherries are brimming with cancer-fighting Phytochemicals and Phenolic acids (antioxidants) as well as Anthocyanins, which reduce inflammation and inhibit tumour growth and development. They’ve been proven to help relieve chronic pain, lower blood pressure, and improve blood flow.
On top of that, sour cherries are one of the few naturally occurring foods to contain the sleep-aiding hormone melatonin, which enhances mood while promoting a relaxing sleep. While melatonin is a trendy sleeping pill right now, I find that an evening garden stroll, grazing from cherry trees, gets me sleeping like a baby!
Sour Cherries From Salisbury For Your Yard:
Carmine Jewel Cherry
An exciting new development, this hybrid is prized for its tart red cherries in summer, excellent for jams and pies, as well as showy white flowers in spring; upright and rounded, the hardiest sour (pie) cherry yet. Read More…
An early bloomer with large dark red to black cherries that are sweet and slightly astringent; fruit matures in late summer to early fall and excellent for fresh eating and processing; vigorous and hardy, putting out fewer suckers than others. Read More…
A compact fruit tree, the ideal size for backyard orchards; showy white flowers in spring followed by loads of bright red sour cherries in mid summer, excellent for pies and jam; needs full sun and well-drained soil, self-pollinating; extremely hardy. Read More…
An excellent new introduction with beautiful dark red fruit that is great for fresh eating; this cultivar is vigorous and hardy and produces fewer suckers and is quiet lovely in tree or shrub form. Read More…