Science continues to prove what folk wisdom has held for centuries: that plants can heal your body in so many ways. Many recent discoveries have shown that some of our favorite fruits like pomegranates, blueberries, cherries, and blackberries contain compounds that help heal the body in powerful ways, such as fighting cancer, improving skin elasticity, reducing inflammation, and much more. As an herbalist, I want to know as much as possible about the healing properties of the foods we eat, as well as learning about medicinal herbs. Here are three lesser-known fruits that you should know about and start incorporating into your diet right now for powerful results, when used consistently.
The red fruits from the hawthorn tree have been used for countless generations to strengthen the health and function of the heart. Hawthorn berries are reputed to support healthy blood pressure levels, slow a rapid heartbeat, and strengthen the blood vessels. Calming and fortifying, hawthorn gives you “heart”, and has a traditional folk use for building courage. This fruit is used by women during menopause, and is helpful for anyone experiencing an emotional broken heart. People use hawthorn berries during times of stress and anxiety, and can be especially helpful for those who experience panic attacks with a pounding heart and feelings of fright.
The flavor of hawthorn berries is a sweet combo of “tree” and “earth”; it’s very pleasant in tea, and blends nicely with black tea, chamomile, roses, and other berries.
(Safety note: if you’re taking heart medication, don’t use hawthorn unless you’re under supervision by a qualified practitioner.)
A cousin of blueberries, bilberries became famous in the 1940’s when RAF pilots noticed a marked improvement in night vision after eating bilberry jam. Bilberries were found to have remarkable positive effects on eye and vision health. Like blueberries, bilberries contain special dark purple-blue pigments called anthocyanins. Some of the amazing things that bilberries are believed to help with include improving night vision, protecting from macular degeneration, and strengthening the tiny blood vessels that bring oxygen and nutrients to the eyes. As we age, these blood vessels become fragile, but bilberries are thought to strengthen them. This dark purple powerhouse may be helpful for glaucoma when used consistently.
The flavor of bilberries is similar to blueberries, but more tart and purple. They make a tasty tea, but can be snacked on like any dried fruit. Because these berries are rather expensive, you will get more bang for your buck by making your own bilberry tincture. In a glass jar, place half a cup of dried bilberries, and pour in 2 cups of vodka or brandy. Close the lid, and shake the jar several times. Let the jar sit for 2 weeks or longer. When your jar is filled with dark purple liquid, strain it out, squeezing as much as possible from the berries as you can. To use, take 1 teaspoon of the tincture 3 times daily. If all that sounds like too much work, click here for ready-to-use bilberry tincture.
This dark red berry is called wu wei zi in China and translates to mean “five taste fruit”. When you hold a schizandra berry in your mouth, you will literally experience five different flavors: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and astringent. One of the beliefs of traditional herbal medicine is that when something has a lot of different flavors, it can help your body with a wide variety of ailments. This is very true of schizandra. Considered to be a tonic adaptogen herb, schizandra helps protect the body from the negative effects of stress. This potent berry is also used to promote restful sleep, and normalize most body functions. Shizandra protects and strengthens the liver, is high in antioxidants, and is used for coughs, night sweats, and adrenal burnout.
The flavor of this berry is sour but not unpleasant when you drink it as a tea. You can blend it with milder herbs such as lemon balm when using it for stress, or with licorice for adrenal and lung health. You can make a schizandra tonic wine by soaking a handful of these tart berries in your favorite rich red wine. Let them soak for 2 weeks, then strain the berries from the liquid. Take a tablespoon of this tonic wine 3 to 4 times per week. You don’t need to use a lot of this to get the benefits, just a small amount used consistently will yield the best results.
Wishing you all a happy and healthy winter season!