Cranberries can be an all season treat


Most people only eat cranberries at Thanksgiving or maybe Christmas. When they do find their way to our plates they’re usually smothered with sugar. If people only knew the benefits of this tart fruit they might try eating them more often and more naturally.

Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) are native to much of the Northeastern part of North America. Sunny places with moist sandy acidic soil are necessary for them to thrive. Growth requirements are quite specific. Soil pH should be no higher than 5.0, which is far too acid for most plants. Additionally, plants are shallow rooted and not drought tolerant, so water must always be abundant. Wild ones can be found in isolated areas in our area and in the mountains of western North Carolina but we are at the southern edge of their range.

Plants are very low growing. Often mature plants are less than two feet tall, so they can be easily shaded by taller and more aggressive species. Tiny oblong leaves emerge singly on creeping stems. Most branches creep along the ground but the ones that produce fruit are upright.

These delicate wiry vines produce their bounty in late fall. Cranberry season generally lasts from October until December. Each berry contains four seeds. Fruits are very acidic in taste, having a pH in the range of 2.3 to 2.5. Throughout the summer the developing cranberries are white, and they stay that way for a long time. White fruits should generally be avoided. Many people who see unripe cranberries think they are poisonous.

When these berries ripen they are not only edible, but they are among the healthiest fruits you can find. Only blueberries have higher levels of antioxidants. Interestingly, both belong to the same family. Cranberries are rich in vitamin C, E, K and fiber. They only contain about 50 calories in a one cup serving. That assumes you eat them raw without sugar, something many find hard to do.

These bright red fruits have strong antibacterial properties and are helpful for treating urinary tract infections. Part of the reason is that they turn urine acidic and bacteria generally struggle in acidic environments.  Acidity also helps prevent formation of alkaline calcium ammonium phosphate stones in the urinary tract.

Cranberries do contain significant levels of oxalates, which could contribute to Calcium oxalate stones, however. Not all kidney stones are the same. High levels of vitamin K also could be a problem for people on blood thinning medicines.

Cranberries can keep in the refrigerator for up to two months. They also freeze well. While I’ve raved about their fresh use, they are also a great addition to your favorite apple pie recipe. Add cooked cranberries to your apple sauce too. They add flavor and color. They’re super in salads too, fresh or dried.

These red morsels should be part of our diet all year, not just at Thanksgiving and Christmas, though that is when they are most plentiful. Learn to appreciate their tart flavor and give these powerful disease fighting vitamin packed fruits a spot on your table all year.

small bunch of cranberries all cleaned up and ready for use

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (tmanzer@ecpps.k12.nc.us).

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About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com). I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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One Response to Cranberries can be an all season treat

  1. tonytomeo says:

    I know that they can do well in parts of Oregon, and would likely do well in the northeastern corner of California. However, I think they are more trouble than they are worth here. There are a few damp spots with rich soil down near the creek, but the pH is risky. Blueberries can do well here, but it not easy to find the spot for them. We have our own native specie of huckleberry.

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