Cherry, the common name for several related trees, and for the edible fruit of some species. The genus containing cherry trees also includes plums, peaches, almonds, and apricots. Because many of these plants have been cultivated for thousands of years and widely hybridized, the classification is complex.
The ancestors of most of the modern cultivated varieties of cherry are probably the sweet, or dessert, cherry and the sour, or pie, cherry. The sweet cherry tree is frequently planted for its fruit and for its beauty when in flower, and also for its value as a timber tree. It grows rapidly and has strong, close-grained wood, suitable for use by cabinetmakers, turners, and musical-instrument makers. Double varieties of both species are also grown.
Cherries have been shown to have several health benefits. Cherries contain anthocyanins, which is the red pigment in berries. Cherry anthocyanins have been shown to reduce pain and inflammation. Anthocyanins are also potent antioxidants which protect cells from oxidative damage by free radicals.
Cherries have also been shown to contain high levels of melatonin. Besides being an anti-oxidant, melatonin has also been shown to be important for the function of the immune system and in regulating the circadian rhythm.
Cherries have a very short fruiting season. In Australia they are usually at their peak around Christmas time, in southern Europe in June, in America in June, and in the UK in mid July. Annual world production (as of 2003) of domesticated cherries is about 3 million tonnes, of which a third are sour cherries. In many parts of North America they are among the first tree fruits ripe; hence the colloquial term "cherry" to mean "new" or "the first", e.g. "in cherry condition".
The Romans are believed to have discovered sweet cherries in Asia Minor in about 70 BC and introduced them to Britain in the first century AD.
Although the fruit has always been popular for dessert and culinary purposes, cherries were used during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries for their medicinal properties.
The German word Kirsch, the cherry liqueur, came from the word karshu, the name given to the first cultivated cherries in Mesopotamia in 8 BC.
Hot cherry stones were once used in bed-warming pans and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream associates cherries with love and romance.
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