It’s the winter holiday season and wonderful, bright, red things are popping up all over. No, it’s not Rudolf’s nose, Santa’s jacket, or poinsettias—it’s cranberries. Although they are seen most commonly around this time of year, I am glad that the cranberry has managed to make it into our mainstream recipes. They are a delightful surprise when added to salads and desserts.
The lowly (literally) cranberry is rich in antioxidants, has health benefits, and also has an interesting history. For example—
- History records that the Pilgrims were first introduced to the American cranberry by the native tribes in the area.
- The Pequots used cranberries in a variety of ways—mixing them with venison and fat to make pemmican, as a dying agent, and as an astringent for wounds to staunch bleeding.
- The American cranberry actually has a smaller European cousin that is found throughout northern Europe, the Netherlands, England, and Siberia. So, it is likely that the Pilgrims were familiar with the berry before coming to America.
- By the late 1600’s, New Englanders were exporting their big, beautiful cranberries to England and providing them to sailors to prevent scurvy.
- Happily, for early sailors, the waxy coating of the cranberry provided a natural barrier that kept them fresh for months at sea.
- Cranberries grow on vines very low to the ground and flourish in bogs. This inspired the early English people to refer to them as bog berries, marsh berries, and fen whort.
- The name for the cranberry is ‘bogged’ down a bit in that, depending on the historical report, various people groups are credited with the name of ‘cranberry.’ Some credit the low-German speaking people of Europe and others credit the Pilgrims.
- The cranberry blossom resembles the head of a crane so historical scholars propose that comparison was the origin for the current name of this bright, lovely berry. I will take ‘cranberry’ over ‘bog berry’ any day!
- According to history.org, today’s cranberry bogs can produce up to 15,000 lbs. of berries per acre, ten times over the amount from a century ago, and probably a hundred times more than in colonial times.
- The United States and Canada continue to provide 96% of the world’s cranberry production.
Health wise, cranberries are a great choice to add to your diet; they are chock full of vitamin C and also contain manganese, vitamin E, vitamin K1, and copper. Inadequate levels of copper can have negative health consequences and Western diets often do not contain enough of it.
Www.healthline.com cites several potential health benefits due to cranberries unique properties. They contain a plant compound called A-type proanthocyanidins that can help to avoid or improve two very unwanted health conditions. The compound prevents H. Pylori from attaching to the stomach lining and E.coli from attaching to the bladder lining. H. Pylori infection is a cause of stomach cancer and E.coli can cause urinary tract infections. Additionally, a significant amount of studies indicate that cranberries may help to maintain good cholesterol/lower bad cholesterol and decrease blood pressure.
As with all things, moderation is suggested—people susceptible to kidney stones or diarrhea may be at risk if they overindulge in cranberries. And, of course, the use of a sweetener is almost a necessity due to their tartness. As always, information in this column is for informational and entertainment purposes only. Please consult your physician about changes to your diet.
Cranberries consistently make the ‘healthiest berries list’ no matter which expert you are consulting—another great reason to make cranberry juice or cranberries a reoccurring visitor to your menu planning—not just at the holiday season. You are invited to join us for a healthy, well-balanced meal at the Sedona Community Center, where cranberries make a regular appearance on our plates. A suggested donation of only $5 for people over 60 and $6 for all others helps to keep our scrumptious lunches available for the community. Please call 928.282.2834 to make a reservation or for more information.