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Cranberries: Evergreen And For Ever Healthy

Posted by Rahat al imran Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Thoughts of the cranberry probably bring forth memories of Ocean Spray commercials or circular slices of the jellied variety adorning a Thanksgiving platter, yet cranberries are one of the most healthful and multifarious fruit available.  Found and grown in bogs throughout the northern hemisphere, cranberries are actually a type of evergreen dwarf shrubs or trailing vines.  With skinny, wire-like stems, and dark pink flowers, they are popular with the honeybee and anyone who likes a sweet fruit with an acidic kick.
In the US and Canada, cranberries are a major commercial crop.  They can be made into cranberry juice (hence the images of the Ocean Spray commercials), cranberry sauce, cranberry jelly, or dried into candy-like treats, although many people enjoy them fresh.  Cranberries have been increasingly recognized as a super fruit, along with the Acai berry and blueberry, among others, because of their antioxidant and nutrient content.      
Vaccinium oxycoccos (Northern Cranberry) is a species of cranberry found in Europe, northern Asia, and North America.  These cranberries are small, pale pink, and have a tangy flavor.  The Vaccinium microcarpum (Small Cranberry) is a species of cranberry found in Northern Europe and Northern Asia.  Vaccinium macrocarpon (Large Cranberry) is a species of cranberry found in northeastern North America, and is one of the most popular varieties due to its closeness to an apple taste.  Cranberries are close cousins to huckleberries, bilberries, and blueberries.
Cranberries got their name by early European settlers.  These pioneers believed that the flower, stem, calyx, and petals of the cranberry plant looked very much like the neck, head, and bill of a crane, so naming the fruit the “cranberry.”  In Northeastern Canada, cranberries are often called “moss berries,“ yet the traditional English name for the tangy fruit is “fen berry,” due to the berries growth in the “fen,” or marshes.  Native Americans first consumed cranberries, or as they dubbed them, Sassamanash, as food, medicine, and colorant.  They may have given them to starving European settlers, who then incorporated them into their Thanksgiving feasts.  It wasn’t until the 1820s that cranberries were exported to Europe, where they became popular in the Nordic countries, Russia, and Scotland.
How are cranberries grown?  Well, Ocean Spray commercials pretty much have it right.  The men in those goofy rubber overalls, surrounded by a veritable sea of berries are quite representative of what one might see in a cranberry bog.  In the US, cranberries are cultivated in Maine, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Washington, Michigan, Oregon, Minnesota, and New Jersey; Wisconsin leads production with over 50% of the market share, followed by Wisconsin with 28%.  Traditionally, cranberries were grown in wetlands, yet today they are constructed in beds in uplands with a shallow water table.
There is no topsoil, which is scraped off and replaced with clean sand, brought in at four to eight inches, and then leveled off.  The beds can be drained by socked tile or the perimeter ditch, dug around the bed.  Cranberries are grown by moving established vines from one bed to a new one.  The vines are pushed into the sand and then watered until roots form.  They are showered with nitrogen fertilizer until they are a year old.  They are harvested in the fall, when the berries are finally deep red.
Cranberries have numerous health benefits.  They are full of vitamin C, fiber and manganese.  Cranberries are rich sources of antioxidants, with benefits to the immune system, cardiovascular system, and aid in fighting off carcinogens.  They can fight tooth decay and prevent kidney infections, including kidney stones, and consumption has been shown to reduce stress.


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