Over the past few years, we’ve been encouraging readers to make a concerted effort to add goji berries, acai berries, cherimoya and other little-known health-boosting fruits to their diets. Now we’d like to introduce you to three more “super fruits” you probably haven’t yet heard of.
Collectively, they’re called prairie fruits because they grow wild on the Great Plains of North America. Unfortunately, Americans hardly use them. A recent study in Canadian Journal of Plant Science reported that these fruits—which grow on the Canadian prairie, too—are chock-full of antioxidants, vitamins and other important nutrients, according to the lead author of the study, Rick Green, PhD, vice president of technology at POS Bio-Sciences, a food ingredient and dietary supplement research firm in Saskatoon, Canada.
Historically, these three prairie fruits have been used by indigenous peoples due to their medicinal properties, Dr. Green told us. Buffaloberries and chokecherries are native to North America…the species of sea buckthorn used in his research study originated in Mongolia but now thrives on the plains. Here’s how each one offers an abundance of nutrients that can help support a long, healthy life…
Buffaloberries. These small, tart, bright red berries grow on bushes along riverbeds and in moist areas of the plains. Native Americans used them in foods as well as in remedies for stomach troubles and other maladies. Whether those traditional medicinal uses ultimately prove to have a basis in science remains to be seen—but Dr. Green did find impressive nutritional benefits. Compared to oranges, buffaloberries have four times as much vitamin C by weight. While vitamin C isn’t exactly hard to come by, it is important to get enough considering that it helps protect against immune system deficiencies and iron malabsorption and may guard against cardiovascular disease and other diseases in which oxidative stress plays a role. Also, buffaloberries typically contain more than four times the levels of phenolic antioxidants as many blueberries. And other research shows that buffaloberries are rich in lycopene, which has been linked to reduced risk for cancers of the prostate, lung and stomach.
Try them: Buffaloberries can be eaten out of hand…dried…used in jellies, jams and sauces…or turned into wine. Don’t go way overboard, though, because (as with certain other fruits) you may develop diarrhea.
Chokecherries. These grow in clusters on shrubby trees. When ripe, they are about one-quarter-inch across and a dark purplish red with a pit in the center. Native Americans ate them raw or in dried form and used them medicinally to aid digestion and treat various infectious diseases. Those uses make sense, considering that Dr. Green found chokecherries to be high in anthocyanin, an antioxidant pigment that has antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and antiviral effects. Chokecherries’ anthocyanin content is more than double that of cranberries. They also are rich in fiber, vitamin K, manganese and potassium.
Try them: You can eat chokecherries out of hand (but be careful not to crush or swallow the pits, which are toxic)…or try chokecherry juice, jelly, flavored vinegar and wine.
Sea buckthorn. The sea buckthorn plant did not originate in North America, but once it arrived, the shrub with its medium-small yellow-orange berries took off, Dr. Green said. Probably because it grows in so many places, it’s also the most widely studied of the three prairie fruits. Sea buckthorn berries are loaded with antioxidants and vitamin C. They also are a good source of the omega-7 fatty acids that are thought to improve insulin sensitivity…reduce inflammation…promote cardiovascular health by reducing LDL cholesterol and smoothing artery walls…and help control appetite. In addition, evidence suggests that sea buckthorn berries help ease heartburn symptoms.
Try them: Various sea buckthorn products are available online and in some health-food stores. They can be eaten as dried berries, which have a citrusy, somewhat tropical taste…jelly…oil…teas…or juice (if it tastes too tart, try blending with other juices).
WHERE TO BUY PRAIRIE FRUITS
For now, you may have to hunt a bit to find these prairie fruits or foods made from them—natural-food stores and online vendors are usually the best bet—but that should change in the next few years. “Cranberries and blueberries also started out growing in the wild, but once people realized what excellent nutritional sources they were, they became much more readily available commercially,” Dr. Green pointed out. “I expect that prairie fruits have great potential to do the same.”
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