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Why have our neighbours not heard of the cherry stone pillow?

Carolin Teufelberger
Zurich, on 06.06.2022

What’s the secret behind the cherry stone pillow? Take a bit of cotton fabric, a handful of pits and pop it in the oven. These three things are all you need to take the edge off tense muscles and belly cramps. It’s a crying shame that many of our neighbouring countries have never heard of it.

Out of nowhere, my belly starts to tense. It feels like an invisible band is constricting my abdomen to the point where it feels like two separate parts. I instinctively assume a fetal position. It’s the only way to alleviate the cramps somewhat. Being the daughter of a doctor, I don’t hesitate to take a painkiller either. 15, 30, 45 minutes pass. It’s not working. I’m close to despair. I pace the apartment in discomfort, searching for anything that might stop the pain. And find it in the drawer below the oven. It’s where I keep my cherry stone pillow.

Medically plausible

A few minutes in the oven is all it takes to heat up the small pits inside the bag. They then release the stored heat consistently over a long period of time. Applied to your body, the heat makes your blood vessels dilate, improves the blood circulation of your skin, which slows down blood flow and helps supply your cells with oxygen and nutrients. It also relaxes your muscles. This explains why heat therapy is used in conventional Western, Chinese and naturopathic medicine.

After a good 30 minutes, my cramps subside. All it took was heat. Why didn’t I think of this sooner? When I was a kid, my parents would put the pillow on my ear, stomach or neck if I was in pain. My dad even sewed one once. It worked like a charm, except if I was dealing with a nasty inflammation of the middle ear.

Neighbouring countries in the dark

In Switzerland, Germany and Austria, cherry stone pillows are a popular home remedy. Surprisingly, it seems to be relatively unknown in the rest of Europe. At least that’s what the TV show «Karambolage» on Arte tells me. In case you haven’t seen it, it’s a show that looks at the differences between Germany and France. However, the Wikipedia page on «Körnerkissen» (grain pillows) does have a Dutch and Swedish entry. It seems, that the healing powers of this simple and environmentally friendly product have also been recognised up north.

Italy and France seem to be familiar with the hot water bottle, which is a close relative of the cherry stone pillow, after all. That’s at least something. Even if the bottle is clearly inferior. Water just doesn’t stay warm for as long as cherry stones do. And the heat-resistant rubber most water bottles are made of these days just doesn’t feel as huggy as the stones.

Besides, the cherry stone pillow isn’t just great for applying heat to the body, but also for cooling. Just pop it in the fridge for a few hours or in the freezer for 30 minutes. You should opt for the cold therapy if you’re suffering from an acute injury such as a bad bruise or sprain. The cold slows down your circulation as well as any swelling and inflammation. The pillow is a true all-rounder, as people in this country have known for a long time.

Who invented it?

According to legend, the pillow was invented by Swiss workers in a cherry liqueur factory. Maybe it was the one that produces Bündner Röteli? They’re said to be the ones who discovered the heat-retaining properties of the stones and used them to relieve their muscular pains caused by hard labour. It’s a beautiful story that’s still told today. However, it’s since become been revealed that cherry stone pillows were known much earlier.

Archaeologists discovered about 400 grammes of cherry stones during excavations in Münster in the late 90s. As the stones were found close together, the scientists concluded that they were probably once wrapped in a cloth bag. The findings are dated to the Late Middle Ages.

This means that cherry stone pillows have been a tradition in German-speaking countries for centuries. Why this natural remedy isn’t commonly known the world over remains a mystery to me. Have we been keeping it under wraps like the recipe for Appenzeller cheese? Or were its simple ingredients simply ridiculed? Who knows. What I do know is that it’s high time belly pain throughout Europe gets some relief. So instead of chocolate, exchange students and tourists should be filling their suitcases with cherry stone pillows.

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My life in a nutshell? On a quest to broaden my horizon. I love discovering and learning new skills and I see a chance to experience something new in everything – be it travelling, reading, cooking, movies or DIY.

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