In their natural habitat, Cranberries grow vigorously in acidic, sandy,cold water bogs which were made by glacial deposits. The plant is a long lived, dwarf, creeping shrub, or vine, which runs up to 2 m long and 10 to 20 cm in height. It has a small leaf and produces berries, which turn bright red when ripe.
In the early 1600’s the Native Americans showed the Pilgrims how to collect and use these fruits. Cranberries quickly became an important food source in colonial New England with the women inventing Cranberry sauces,tarts and other new recipes.
These days harvesting usually takes place by either, flooding the bogs and then corralling together the floating cranberries for harvesting, or by a dry harvest method that involves combing the fruit from the vines.
Common Name: Cranberry
Botanical Name: Vaccinium macrocarpon
Other Names: Ibimi (bitter berry), Atoqua (good fruit), Sassamanesh, Bearberry, Craneberry
Growing area: Native to north-eastern United States and southern Canada
Nutrients & Applications:
Cranberries contain proanthocyanidins (tannins), anthocyanins (bioflaveniods),and organic acids and are a rich source of vitamin A, carotene, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin C. They also contain many essential minerals such as sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, sulphur, iron, and iodide.
Traditionally the native Americans crushed tart, unripe, raw Cranberries into poultices which were used for healing scrapes, sores and arrow wounds because, raw, they have an astringent effect that reduces bleeding. Cranberries were also used as a cure for indigestion, brewed into a tea to help calm nerves and Indian women used Cranberry juice to dye rugs and blankets.These indigenous peoples ate Cranberry as a staple food as early as 1550. Fruits were picked in autumn and dried or stored fresh for the winter food supply.The preservative benzoic acid occurs naturally in Cranberries, thus making them well suited for storage. Mashed Cranberries were mixed with cornmeal and baked into bread. Crushed Cranberries were mixed with dried deer meat and melted fat to form pemmican, a portable food for hunting trips, trade expeditions and a survival ration for the winter months. American whalers and other mariners embarking from New England ports carried barrels of Cranberries on board to prevent scurvy.
Nowadays Cranberries are used to prevent infections and kidney stones, and to support both cardiovascular and dental health. Research shows that it is the proanthocyanidins that are responsible for preventing bladder and urinary tract infections because they inhibit bacteria from attaching to the inside walls of the bladder and urethra, allowing them to be easily flushed out with urine before they multiply and cause infections. They may also help relieve diarrhoea.
The antioxidant compounds in Cranberries as well as cyanidin, peonidin and quercetinmay help prevent cardiovascular disease by counteracting cholesterol plaque formation inthe heart and blood vessels and helping lower LDL cholesterol levels and increasing HDL cholesterol levels in the blood.
Cranberries contain organic acids, including quinic, malic, and citric acids. These compounds, which are responsible for the sour taste of Cranberries, acidify the urine and in the proper dose help prevent kidney stones.Recent studies suggest that Cranberry juice may inhibit the formation of dental plaque and cavities by preventing bacteria from attaching to the gums and teeth, much in the same way they help prevent urinary tract infections.
Cranberries can be eaten fresh or dried, made into jams, tarts and relishes or drunk as juice and tea.