What brings to mind the spring season more than a cherry tree in bloom?
This lovely flower signals a season of pleasure and beauty.
It's no wonder, then, that cherry-themed treatments are a spa favorite.
In 1912, when the people of Japan wanted to give the people of America something in honor of the friendship that was flowering between their two nations, they had little trouble settling on an appropriate gift. It had to be 3,020 Yoshino cherry trees. No doubt, some Americans were puzzled, but to the Japanese, the gesture was unambiguous. The cherry blossom, known as Sakura in Japanese, is not only Japan's national flower, but it also holds an important place in Japanese culture.
The symbolism of this delicate flower mirrors its life span. With each spring, the cherry tree blossoms, and the flowers then quickly wither, leaving the memory of their brief glory. To the Japanese, they signify the transience and beauty of life itself, a time of happiness and renewal. In the springtime when the blossoms appear, their ritual viewing is so important as to merit its own name: hanami. The blossoms are meant to be viewed and appreciated as life is to be seized, the moment savored.
The cherry trees were much appreciated in our nation's capitol. After all, cherries also figured heavily in American lore; who hasn't heard the tale of George Washington chopping down a cherry tree, or the expression, 'Life is a bowl of cherries'? In America too, cherries signify happiness and pleasure. On the banks of the Potomac, the flowering of those Japanese cherry trees has also come to symbolize the arrival of a season of pleasure and renewal.
Cherry trees are more than simply decorative. Cherries are a potent source of antioxidants and phytonutrients. A study by researchers at the University of Michigan Integrative Medicine Program found that a cherry-enriched diet helped reduce risk factors for heart disease and metabolic syndrome, also known as insulin-resistance syndrome or pre-diabetes. The study also found that diets high in cherries help reduce cholesterol levels, lower blood sugar and insulin levels, and raise the antioxidant capacity of the blood.
"Preliminary research shows that perillyl alcohol, a natural compound found in tart cherries, can prevent and treat many of today's worst health problems, including cancer," says Raymond Hohl, M.D., a researcher at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. "It seems that cherries shut down the growth of cancer cells by depriving them of the proteins they need to grow.
Other studies at Johns Hopkins University and Michigan State University have focused on cherries as a natural source of pain relief. The red pigment in cherries, they say, contains natural anthocyanins, an anti-inflammatory pain reliever stronger than aspirin or ibuprofen.
If you've ever had a drowsy feeling after finishing that last slice of cherry pie, there may be a reason. According to Russel J. Reiter, professor of cellular and structural biology at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, Texas, melatonin is both a hormone and antioxidant. Produced in the pineal gland at the base of the brain, melatonin controls patterns of sleep and wakefulness. It also functions as an antioxidant, helping the body destroy free radicals. Reiter's research shows that cherries contain substantial quantities of melatonin, enough to produce positive changes in the body.
And what of the benefits of cherry to the skin? "Excess inflammation can cause damage to the skin," says Marcy L. Street, an East Lansing, Michigan, dermatologist who lectures frequently on skincare and cancer prevention. "Because of their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, it is possible that cherries have therapeutic applications when used topically.â" In addition, "Copious data have shown that both topical application and oral administration of individual antioxidants impart benefits to the skin," says Leslie Baumann, M.D., professor and director of cosmetic dermatology at the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami and the author of The Skin Type Solution: A Revolutionary Guide to Your Best Skin Ever (Bantam, 2006). In her book, Baumann suggests several potent free radical scavengers in such natural sources as bilberry, cranberry, and yes, black cherry.
Perhaps it's no wonder that cherries and cherry blossoms have become popular at the spa. In Washington, D.C., within eyeshot of the city's famous cherry trees, the Spa at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel celebrates Sakura with a spa ritual called 'Cherry Blossom Bliss.' This two-and-a-half-hour, multi-step treatment begins with a foot-washing ceremony. Then, fresh Japanese cherry blossoms are mixed with Sakura cherry tea, sugar, and oil to create an antioxidant-rich cherry scrub, which strengthens the immune system while removing dead skin cells and stimulating circulation. After showering off, the guest enjoys a body wrap tailored to her specific needs. An 80-minute aromatic massage completes the journey.
"Cherry Blossom Bliss is a great springtime spa ritual because it leaves the skin feeling so fresh and renewed," says Spa Director Penny Kriel. "The theme is really fun, and especially popular with guests who are visiting D.C. for the Sakura season."
At Calistoga Ranch in Calistoga, California, the Cherry Radiance Facial is particularly recommended for mature skin. The exfoliating facial begins with a consultation. After a therapist cleanses the guest's skin and administers a lymphatic massage, a Naturopathica Environmental Defense Mask is applied and allowed to seep into the skin while the guest receives a neck and shoulder massage. The mask is gently removed with a warm towel, and extractions, if needed, are performed. A soothing facial mask is followed by another treatment mask tailored to the skin's specific needs. While the masks dry, the client receives a hand and foot massage. This 75-minute treatment is finished with eye cream, moisturizer, sun block and lip balm, leaving the skin bright and beautiful.
"The antioxidants in the cherry provide a lot of health and beauty benefits for the skin," says Karen Ray, spa director of Calistoga Ranch. "It's ideal for mature skin, because of the slower rate of cell turnover. Cherry provides a boost for regeneration and can also help treat uneven pigmentation from too many years in the sun."
Kriel is quick to point out that while absorbing cherry through the skin confers health benefits, eating cherries is the most direct way to take in the antioxidants. Fortunately, for those who have developed an appetite with all the talk about cherries, the hotel restaurant offers numerous cherry-themed dishes and desserts during the Sakura season. Kriel gets a mischievous look in her eye and adds, "This year, we're even developing a cherry cocktail"
At Home Recipes
Cherry ScrubCourtesy of the Spa at the Mandarin Oriental,Washington, D.C.
1/4 cup loose green tea
1/4 cup loose cherry tea
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tbs. grapeseed oil
Mix ingredients together in a bowl. Use mixture to exfoliate the body. Your skin will feel soft, plump, well-hydrated and smooth.
Chamomile Cherry BathRecipe courtesy of Calistoga Ranch, Calistoga, California
1 cup pitted frozen cherries
1 cup Epsom salt
2 chamomile tea begs or one half to one cup of fresh or dried chamomile, tied in a linen bag
Finely blend pitted frozen cherries in a blender or food processor. Draw a hot bath, and place tea bags or a fresh linen bag of chamomile tea in the bath. Sprinkle the Epsom salt into the bath and follow with the blended cherries. Enjoy a soak in this relaxing and nourishing bath for 20 minutes. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of the cherries feed your skin, while soothing chamomile is good for insomnia.
Cherry Delights in the Spa
Cherry Blossom Bliss
Mandarin Oriental, Washington, D.C.
Cherry Radiance Facial
Calistoga Ranch, Calistoga, CA
Chocolate & Cherries Facial
Renee Rouleau Skin Care Spas, Plano & Dallas, TX
(972) 378-6655/(214) 735-4364
Red Flower Sento Treatment & Massage
Great Jones Spa, New York, NY
Wild Cherry Buff Body Treatment
Kiawah Island Resort and Spa, Kiawah Island, NC
Cherries & Cream Hydrotherapy Bath, Cherry Manicure and Pedicure, Cherry Honey Glow
Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, Traverse City, MI
Sour Cherry Body Wrap
Salish Lodge & Spa, Snoqualmie, WA
Chocolate Covered Cherries Scrub and Masque
THEHotel, Las Vegas, NV
L'Occitane en Provence
Cherry Blossom Bath & Shower Gel
Cherry Blossom Shimmering Lotion
Cherry Blossom Bath Oil
Cherry Blossom Bath Tea
Wild Cherry Blossom Rice Buff
Bath and Body Works
Japanese Cherry Blossom Creamy Body Wash
Japanese Cherry Blossom Hand Cream
Cherry Almond Bark Conditioner
Kobo Pure Soy Candles
17 Cherry Tree Lane Soap
Sour Cherry Masque