Cranberry

Learn more about this purported "superfruit" and discover the best ways to consume it to take advantage of all its beneficial properties.

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)Small cranberry, bog cranberry, swamp cranberry
  • Scientific nameVaccinium oxycoccos
  • Plant typeShrub
  • Native regionNorth America
  • Main producer(s)Canada, United States of America
  • Main Economic UseFood industry
Cranberry

Hailing from North America, the cranberry plant found a place within human culture long before its first recorded appearance in the 14th century, when it was used by indigenous peoples as both medicine and food. The first records of cranberry use come from English settlers in the New World circa 1550. These voyagers observed Native American Indian practices that were established centuries prior for treating bladder and kidney disease, and they incorporated cranberries into the first Thanksgiving feasts - a tradition that continues to this day. Commercial farming of these berries began in the early 1800s, and much of the product was shipped to Europe, where it garnered popularity that still remains as an herbal medicine and holiday treat.

Medicinal and Nutritional Information

Quick Facts (Medicinal and Nutritional Information)
  • Medicinal actionAntibacterial, Antiulcer
  • Key constituentsProanthocyanidins, vitamin C
  • Medicinal rating(3) Reasonably useful plant
  • Safety rankingSafe
Cranberry

Health Benefits of Cranberry

Canberry is well-known for its antibacterial effects. Its more supported medicinal uses - both in tradition and modern day - are:

  • Preventing urinary tract infection.  Cranberry has been traditionally consumed to combat the micro-organisms that cause genitourinary infections.

  • Treating stomach ulcers. Because of its antibacterial properties, cranberry has shown to be helpful as a part of the treatment of the sores caused by the presence of Helicobacter pylori.

Because of their ability to inhibit oral bacteria, cranberries are also thought to be helpful in preventing the formation of dental plaque.

Additionally, preliminary research has hinted at new cranberry's properties, including raising "good" cholesterol levels (cholesterolemic) and stopping certain viruses (antiviral).

How It Works

Cranberry's A-type proanthocyanidins (a class of flavonoids) are thought to prevent urinary tract infections by preventing bacteria from attaching to the walls of the urethra and bladder. Although it is not yet definitive, this same mechanism could also explain why cranberry products seem to inhibit Helicobacter pylori, as well as certain oral bacteria.

On the nutritional side, cranberries are most famously noted for their vitamin C (ascorbic acid) content, which supports collagen production and is partly responsible for their antioxidant properties. They are also a good source of dietary fiber and manganese.

Cleavers and parsley are also great for treating and preventing urinary tract infections, whereas cabbage and goldenseal have similar antiulcer properties.

Cranberry Side Effects

Cranberry has few known side effects. However, as in the case of any other herb, over consumption can cause digestive upset.

Those taking medications that affect the liver should consult a physician before consuming cranberry.

Cranberry products seem to inhibit Helicobacter pylori as well as certain oral bacteria.

How to Consume Cranberry

While the antioxidant benefits of cranberry are usually obtained by consuming it as food, the best way to take full advantage of cranberry's antibacterial benefits is taking it in supplemental forms and herbal preparations, which have a higher concentration of active ingredients.

Remedies

Main preparations: Capsules, juice, infusions

There are many cranberry supplements in the market, being capsules the most common form of consumption. Dosages usually depend on the ailment that requires treatment: adults looking to treat UTIs are recommended to drink 1 - 10 ounces of its juice, while type 2 diabetics can benefit from a 300 - 400 mg capsule twice a day. Dried cranberry can also be taken as an infusion to prevent and relieve urinary tract infections.

Foods

Main ways: Raw, dried, juice, jam

Raw cranberries are considered an acquired taste because of their tart flavor, although they lend themselves to being a portable snack when dried. Cranberry is easily found in grocery stores and supermarkets, and its sharp, pleasing taste is commonly used in tarts, sauces and jams.

Cranberry is a staple on Canadian, American, and British holiday tables.

Buying

Quick Facts (Buying)
  • Where to buySupermarkets, Big online retailers, Online herb stores, Local herbal store

Some grocery stores and supermarkets will carry raw or canned-fresh cranberries year-round, but many more may feature the product during harvest months - September and October - and throughout the fruit's peak season, which ends in late December. Farmers' markets in North America and northern Europe may also offer seasonal supplies during this time.

The most common type found in stores is the small cranberry, which is commercially cultivated for mass consumption.

Cranberry supplements are increasingly found in specialized health stores, wholesale chains, and pharmacies. They normally come in tablet or capsule form, and label instructions should be followed for optimum benefits. Various online retailers also stock these supplements, particularly those that specialize in herbal medicine and home remedies.

Growing

Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Life cyclePerennial
  • Harvested partsFruit
  • Light requirementsFull sun
  • SoilClay loam, Peaty, Well-drained
  • Soil pH3.5 – 4.4 (Extremely acidic), 5.1 – 5.5 (Strongly acidic)
  • Growing habitatCool temperate regions, Temperate climates
  • USDA Plant Hardiness Zones4a (From −34.4 °C (−30 °F) to −31.7 °C (−25 °F)), 4b (From −31.7 °C (−25 °F) to −28.9 °C (−20 °F))
  • Planting timeSpring
  • Plant spacing average3 m (9.84 ft)
  • Growing timeApril to November
  • Propagation techniquesCuttings
  • Potential insect pestsLeafhoppers, Caterpillars, Flea beetles, Root weevils
  • Potential diseasesFungi, Phytophthora spp., Root rot, Damping-off

Classified as an evergreen dwarf shrub, cranberry vines can reach up to seven feet (2 m) long and two to eight inches (5 - 20 cm) in height. The shrubs can be grown in a similar way to blueberries and blackberries, to which cranberry is closely related. The plant is not frequently cultivated for ornamental purposes, but it is possible to do so, bearing in mind that it takes about four years of careful attention for vegetation to start producing fruit.

Although cranberry is known and prized for its ability to withstand acidic, infertile soils, it still requires adequate fertilization in order to maximize yields. Young shrubs, in particular, require plenty of water to take root and develop, as well as copious supplies of nitrogen. Its second and third years should be focused on reducing nitrogen levels and pruning. Unlike many plants, this hardy fruit can survive temperatures as low as 32°F (0°C).

Growing Guidelines

  • Cranberries grow in low, wet, acidic areas, or in highly organic, acid soils in full sun.
  • Ideal conditions for cranberries are acid peat soil, an adequate fresh water supply, and a growing season that extends from April to November.
  • Cranberries are planted in beds layered with sand, peat, gravel and clay, where kettle holes filled with water and organic matter create an ideal environment for this crop.
  • Cranberry is typically grown in trail vines, like a strawberry, with a usual spacing of one plant every four square feet (0.4 m2).
  • After being planted, cranberry plants need extra nitrogen on the ground to start growing. They also need half an inch (1 cm) of sand over the soil.
  • The best way to reproduce cranberries is from one year old cuttings or three year old seedlings.
  • Every two to three years, in late March - just after the snow melts – is necessary to add a little more sand to cover the rhizomes that have fallen over.
  • Cranberry plants take around four years to reach their full production.
  • Cranberries are prompt to diseases and pests. Before the plants are established, weeds need to be taken care of. The sand application not only helps the vines to grow but also slows the growth of weeds and insects.
  • Unlike many plants, this hardy fruit can survive temperatures as low as 32°F (0°C). However, in late November - around Thanksgiving time – cranberry plants need to be protected with white plastic or with a few inches of mulch to prevent frozen damage on the leaves and killing the buds. This mulch should be removed by April 1 or before sand is added.
  • The cranberry harvest takes place once a year from mid-September through early November.

Additional Information

Plant Biology

Cranberry is a native American evergreen shrub that grows most frequently in bogs and moist forest habitats. The berries are borne on short uprights 6 - 8 inches (15 - 20 cm) in length, rising from a dense mass of stems. The cranberry fruit has a smooth skin and is generally round, about 0.33 inch (0.8 cm) in diameter and 0.5 - 1 inch (1 - 3 cm) long. The tiny seeds are attached at the center of the fruit and surrounded by the tart pulp. Bigger than the plant's leaves are the white or pink flowers that give way to deep red berries.

  • Classification

    A member of Ericaceae, or the heath family, the scientific name of the cranberry plant is Vaccinium oxyccocus. It shares this distinction with 6,000 fellow species that also belong to this family, including other berry fruits, such as blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), uva ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), and lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea).

  • Varieties and Subspecies of Cranberry

    Worldwide, three species that go by the name of cranberry are widely recognized, though small cranberry (V. oxyccocus) is the most widely-produced species. Large cranberry, or bearberry (V. macrocarpon), is strictly North American, and its berries are larger with an apple-like taste. Southern mountain cranberry (V. erythrocarpum) grows mostly in the southeastern Appalachian Mountains, but it has also been found in Eastern Asia.

Economic Data

For both the U.S. and Canada, cranberry production represents a major section of the commercial crop industry. British Columbia's lower mainland alone produces 20% of the world's supply, valued at 25 million CAD. The largest American cranberry juice brand, meanwhile, provides roughly 54% of the country's cranberry juice. Very modest markets also exist in southern Argentina and Chile, the Netherlands, and Eastern Europe.

Around 95% of cranberries are processed and sold as food and beverage products, while the remaining portion is divided into sale for fresh consumption and herbal supplements. Dried cranberry is quite popular in the U.S., as it offers the berry's nutritional benefits without its sharp taste.

Other Uses of Cranberry

Perhaps due to its efficacy and popularity as a dietary element, there is very little record of its use in other products.

Bibliography