If you look forward to fresh cherries in the spring and summer you are not alone. In California, the first week of May kicks off fresh cherry season. According to Edible Paradise, the U.S. produces about 13 percent, or 310 thousand metric tons, of the cherries grown internationally. Cherries are being studied for their health-promoting effects.
An article in “Science and Nature” lists cherries as one of the “top 10 poisonous foods we love to eat.” The authors at Science and Nature warn that the fruit of the cherry really is not the problem; the cherry pit and the leaves of the cherry tree are the culprits. If you crush, chew or scrape a cherry pit, it can release prussic acid, which is a component of hydrogen cyanide.
The Environment Agency in the United Kingdom puts the information in perspective: Cherry pits contain cyanogenic or cyanide-forming glycosides such as amygdalin that can release hydrogen cyanide if you chew them. Traces of cyanide can be found in fruit products such as jams that might contain cherry pits. But, the cyanide content of cherry pits is small and accidental poisoning is rare. When you eat cherries, don’t chew or swallow the pits.
Cherry juice is known in the natural foods world as a remedy to reduce the pain and inflammation of gout, according to the Cherry Marketing Institute. Cherries contain anthocyanins. which act to block the COX-1 and COX-2 pain transporting cyclooxygenase in your body. In 2007, an article pulbished in “The Journal of Nutrition” found that anthocyanins present in cherries and black currants decreased plasma concentrations of pro-inflammatory chemicals in the blood stream. In 2010, an article was published in the “Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition” which supported the anti inflammatory effects of cherries. The researchers studied the effect cherry juice had in reducing muscle pain in 54 healthy individuals who were running long distance races. They found that drinking tart cherry juice for seven days prior to a strenuous running event, such as a marathon, reduced post-exercise muscle pain.