Edible Wild Plants: Mountain Cranberry (Vaccinium Vitis-Idaea)

The Mountain Cranberry (Vaccinium Vitis-Idaea) needs no introduction to northern peoples, for it is one of the staple fruits of all northern lands.

In fact, the Norwegians have so long depended upon this fruit that the Norwegian colonists who have settled in the Middle West import the berries in vast quantities from Norway and from Newfoundland, preferring them to the larger bog-cranberries of the United States.

Mountain Cranberry (Vaccinium Vitis-Idaea)Native Americans and indigenous peoples of Eurasia used the leaves and fruit as food or medicine. Preparations made from the leaves were used to treat bladder problems, gout, and rheumatism. Medicinal fruit jellies were used to treat sore throats and colds. The Slave, Athabaska, Cree, and Inuit people ate the fruit fresh and preserved them for winter use. Berries were often boiled and mixed with oil to facilitate storage for long periods.

The waxy leaves of the mountain cranberry helps to retain moisture in the leaves. Despite the fact that alpine areas receive heavy amounts of precipitation, thin soils, and exposure to sun and high winds can create drought conditions for alpine plants. The leaves are also evergreen, which allows the plant to begin photosynthesis as soon as the short growing season begins.

The berries collected in the wild are a popular fruit in northern, central and eastern Europe, notably in Nordic countries, the Baltic states, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Romania, Russia, and Ukraine. In some areas they can legally be picked on both public and private lands in accordance with the freedom to roam.

Mountain Cranberry Bush

The berries are quite tart, so they are often cooked and sweetened before eating in the form of lingonberry jam, compote, juice, smoothie or syrup. The raw fruit are also frequently simply mashed with sugar, which preserves most of their nutrients and taste. This mix can be stored at room temperature in closed but not necessarily sealed containers, but in this condition, they are best preserved frozen. Fruit served this way or as compote often accompany game meats and liver dishes. In Sweden and Norway, reindeer and elk steak is traditionally served with gravy and lingonberry sauce. Preserved fruit is commonly eaten with meatballs and potatoes in Sweden and Norway, and also with pork. A traditional Swedish dessert is lingonpäron (literally lingonberry pears) which is fresh pears which are peeled and boiled in lingondricka (lingonberry squash) and then preserved in the pear-infused lingonberry squash and not uncommonly eaten during Christmas. This was very common in old times, because it was an easy and tasty way to preserve pears. In Sweden and Russia, when sugar was still a luxury item, the berries were usually preserved simply by putting them whole into bottles of water. This was known as vattlingon (watered lingonberries); the procedure preserved them until next season. This was also a home remedy against scurvy. In Russia this preserve had been known as “lingonberry water” (брусничная вода) and is a traditional soft drink. In Russian folk medicine, lingonberry water was used as a mild laxative. A traditional Finnish dish is sautéed reindeer (poronkäristys) with mashed potatoes and lingonberries, either cooked or raw with sugar. In Finland, a porridge made from the fruit is also popular. In Poland, the berries are often mixed with pears to create a sauce served with poultry or game. The berries can also be used to replace red currants when creating Cumberland sauce to give it a more sophisticated taste.

Mountain Cranberry's Very Popular & HandpickedThe berries are also popular as a wild picked fruit in Eastern Canada, for example in Newfoundland and Labrador and Cape Breton, where they are locally known as partridgeberries, and on the mainland of Nova Scotia, where they are known as foxberries. In this region they are incorporated into jams, syrups, and baked goods, such as pies, scones, and muffins.

Lingonberries are a staple item in Sweden, and at the Swedish retailer IKEA. It is often sold as jam and juice in the store and as a key ingredient in dishes. They are used to make Lillehammer berry liqueur, and in East European countries, lingonberry vodka is sold.

The berries are an important food for bears and foxes, and many fruit-eating birds. Caterpillars of the Coleophoridae case-bearer moths Coleophora glitzella, Coleophora idaeella and Coleophora vitisella are obligate feeders on Vaccinium vitis-idaea leaves.

The berry is believed to be the flavor of the popular Swedish-American candy Swedish Fish. The exact flavor of the candy is still unknown.

Edible Parts

  • Fruit (Berry)

Uses

Fruit – raw or cooked. Quite pleasant to eat. An acid flavour, they are used like cranberries in preserves and are considered by many people to be superior to cranberries. The taste is better after a frost. Occasionally the plants bear 2 crops in a year. The fruit is about 6mm in diameter.

A tea is made from the leaves. This should not be drunk on a regular basis because it contains the toxin ‘arbutin

Fruit can be eaten raw or cooked to make a tart sauce. Berries are used to make preserves, jam, jelly, candy, syrup, pickles, juice beverages, and wine. Fruit can be added to rose hips to make a tasty jelly, or added to various ice cream products.

Fruit is widely processed and marketed in Japan and Europe and is harvested commercially in parts of Alaska, Scandinavia, Russia, and Canada. Large amounts of fruit are imported into the US annually, much of this consumed by peoples of Scandinavian descent who use the so-called “Swedish lingenberry” in traditional dishes.

Arbutin, which is obtained from the leaves and stems, is used by the pharmaceutical industry in preparations used to treat intestinal disorders.

Medicinal Uses

The leaves are antiseptic, astringent, diuretic, refrigerant.

They are used in the treatment of gonorrhea, arthritis, rheumatism, diabetes and diarrhea. The leaves are gathered in early summer and dried for later use. The mature fruits are eaten fresh or dried as a remedy for diarrheaand as a treatment for sore throats, coughs and colds. The juice has been gargled as a treatment for sore throats.

The berries contain plentiful organic acids, vitamin C, provitamin A (as beta carotene), B vitamins (B1, B2, B3), and the elements potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. In addition to these nutrients, they also contain phytochemicals that are thought to counteract urinary-tract infections, and the seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

Where Does Mountain Cranberry (Vaccinium Vitis-Idaea) Grow?

Mountain Cranberry Growing Area

How To Identify Mountain Cranberry (Vaccinium Vitis-Idaea)

Mountain Cranberry Leaves
Leaves

Simple, thick, leathery, and evergreen; are obovate, oblong, or elliptic, alternating in a spiral. Upper surface dark green; the lower surface pale green, waxy with black glandular dots, turning purplish in fall. Leaves may persist for up to 3 years.
Plants become dormant by fall.

Mountain Cranberry Flowers
Flowers

Develop from buds initiated the previous year, occurring on terminal racemes singly or in groups of up to 15.

Mountain Cranberry Fruit
Fruit

A bright to dark red, globular berry approximately 1/4″ to 1/2″ in diameter. The four-celled berries are acidic to sour or bitter. Yellow, short-beaked seeds average 0.04″ in length.

Mountain Cranberry Stem
Stems

Semi-woody, slender and trailing, bearing numerous shoots 1-2 mm in diameter.

Roots

Consist of tap roots with finely divided rootlets at the extremities and adventitious roots occurring at nodes along creeping stems and rhizomes. The branched rhizomes have numerous hairlike roots. Maximum rooting depths 2″-11″. 80% of the total biomass of mature plants is underground.

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