Nourishing Cranberries

Common Name: cranberry, American cranberry, bog cranberry. Latin Name: Vaccinium macrocarpon.

Cranberries are the fruit of a native plant of North America. These delicious red berries are used in foods as well as in herbal products.

Cranberries are a gift from nature. And like all of nature’s gifts, it is very good for the human body. Some US states and other countries market cranberry as one of the few superfruits (a fruit with numerous health benefits) in the world. The berries are used to produce beverages and many other food products, as well as dietary supplements in the form of extracts, teas, and capsules or tablets.

What Science Says

  • Some studies testing cranberry products for their ability to prevent urinary tract infections have shown promise. These studies have generally been small in size, and some were not randomized or controlled; therefore, the results are not yet conclusive.
  • Research shows that components found in cranberry may prevent bacteria, such as E. coli, from clinging to the cells along the walls of the urinary tract and causing infection. However, the mechanism of action of cranberry is not fully understood.
  • NCCAM, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, and the National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research are funding studies to understand whether and how cranberry might work to prevent urinary tract infection and prevent the formation of dental plaque

Side Effects and Cautions

  • Eating cranberry products in food appears to be safe, but drinking excessive amounts of juice could cause gastrointestinal upset or diarrhea.
  • People who think they have a urinary tract infection should see a health care provider for proper diagnosis and treatment. Cranberry products should not be used to treat infection, rather to help prevent infection.
  • Tell your health care providers about any complementary and alternative practices you use, especially if you have a pre-existing health condition.

Purchasing Cranberries

Native Americans, long before the Pilgrims arrived in 1620, mixed deer meat and mashed cranberries to make pemmican — a convenience food that kept for long periods of time. They also believed that cranberries had medicinal value, and were used by medicine men as an ingredient in poultices to draw poison from arrow wounds. Cranberry juice was a natural dye for rugs, blankets and clothing. The Delaware Indians in New Jersey used the cranberry as a symbol of peace.

Buy cranberries that are hard, bright, light to dark red. Sealed in plastic bags, cranberries will keep refrigerated for a month; frozen, they will keep up to one year. A good cranberry will bounce.

Quick Cranberry Facts

  • Recipes using cranberries date back to the 1700s.
  • The cranberry is one of only a handful of major fruits native to North America. Others include the blueberry and Concord grape.
  • Cook cranberries only until they pop. Further cooking makes them taste better.
  • When cooking cranberries, always add one teaspoon of butter to each pound to eliminate over boiling and excess foam.
  • The cranberry gets its name from Dutch and German settlers, who called it “crane berry.” When the vines bloom in the late spring and the flowers’ light pink petals twist back, they have a resemblance to the head and bill of a crane. Over time, the name was shortened to cranberry.
  • During the days of wooden ships and iron men, American vessels carried cranberries. Just as the English loved limes, American sailors craved cranberries. It was the cranberry’s generous supply of vitamin C that prevented scurvy.
  • Native Americans used cranberries to make a survival cake known as pemmican. They also used the fruit in poultices and dyes.
  • Dennis, Massachusetts was the site of the first recorded cranberry cultivation in 1816.
  • American recipes containing cranberries date from the early 18th Century.
  • Legend has it that the Pilgrims may have served cranberries at the first Thanksgiving in 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
  • During World War II, American troops required about one million pounds of dehydrated cranberries a year.
  • The hearty cranberry vine thrives in conditions that would not support most other crops: acid soil, few nutrients and low temperatures, even in summer.
  • It takes one ton or more of cranberry vines per acre to plant a bog.
  • Depending on the weather, cranberry blossoms last 10 to 12 days.
  • Contrary to popular belief, cranberries do not grow in water. They are grown on sandy bogs or marshes. Because cranberries float, some bogs are flooded when the fruit is ready for harvesting.
  • If all the cranberry bogs in North America were put together, they would comprise an area equal in size to the tiny island of Nantucket, off Massachusetts, approximately 47 square miles.
  • Cranberries are primarily grown in five states — Massachusetts, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington. Another 5,500 acres are cultivated in Chile, Quebec, and British Columbia. There are nearly 1,000 cranberry growers in America.
  • The 1996 harvest yielded more than 200 billion cranberries — about 40 for every man, woman and child on the planet.
  • In 1996, cranberry growers in the United States harvested 4.84 million barrels of fruit, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. End to end, that many berries would span more than 1.75 million miles.
  • There are 440 cranberries in one pound, 4,400 cranberries in one gallon of juice and 440,000 cranberries in a 100-pound barrel.
  • Americans consume some 400 million pounds of cranberries each year. About 80 million pounds — or 20 percent — are gobbled up during Thanksgiving week.
  • Seven of 10 cranberries sold in the world today come from Ocean Spray, a grower cooperative started in 1930.
  • If you strung all the cranberries produced in North America last year, they would stretch from Boston to Los Angeles more than 565 times.
  • Add 1/4 teaspoon baking soda to cranberries while cooking them and they will not require as much sugar.
  • Cranberries are sometimes used to flavor wines, but do not ferment as naturally as grapes, making them unsuitable for the traditional winemaking process.
  • Ripe cranberries bounce.

Note:  Some of the above Cranberry Facts came from Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc.

Cranberries for Gum Protection?

Cranberries may bring you an unexpected bonus: protection for your gums. Canadian research finds that cranberries have strong anti-inflammatory and antibiotic activity that forms a teflon like barrier between P. gingivalis bacteria and gum tissue. Because the bacteria cannot adhere, they cannot cause an infection that leads to severe gum desease, or periodontitis. Peridontal disease is the primary cause of tooth loss in adults and affects about 1 in 3 adult Americans.

Growing Beautiful Cranberries

To grow beautiful cranberries, occasionally water plants with a mixture of two tablespoons white vinegar to one quart water. Blueberry and cranberry plants love acid and grow best in soils with a pH below 6.5.

Cranberry Benefits

Read More: Food Facts