The All American Cranberry
The cranberry is native to North America, one of only a handful of native American fruits. New England is home to the majority of these wild fruits: grapes, blueberries, strawberries and cranberries, which were an important food source for native people and wildlife. We know that Native Americans used cranberries as both food and medicine, but also used the juice as a red dye for clothing, blankets and artwork. Cranberries have antibacterial properties, and so they mixed deer meat and mashed cranberries to make pemmicana—a preserved survival food. It’s widely accepted that the Pilgrims were introduced to the cranberry and its many uses by the Native Americans, which is why it has been established as an American tradition that they be served during the holiday season.
Cranberries are a superfood with numerous health benefits. Most people are aware of ingredients in cranberries that helps keep the urinary tract clean and healthy. D-mannose is a type of sugar that absorbs very slowly into the system, 8 times slower than other sugars, and unlike other sugars that are stored in the liver, D-mannose goes directly to the kidneys and is filtered into the bladder. Bacteria in the bladder attach themselves to these D-mannose molecules instead of attaching to the bladder wall, and are flushed out of the bladder along with the D-mannose. Is that not amazing?
The other beneficial components of cranberries are the antioxidants called proanthocyanidins. These antioxidants were first identified in pine bark and grape seeds, but they are also very concentrated in cranberries. Proanthocyanidins are well known for their role in promoting cardiac health, but they too have been found to reduce the ability of bacteria to adhere to the urinary tract. So consuming cranberries daily is especially good for people who have experienced recurrent UTI, and good for cardiac health as well. Evidence also suggests that the polyphenols in cranberries may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) by preventing platelet build-up and reducing blood pressure via anti-inflammatory mechanisms. (1)
But that’s not all. Research has shown that cranberries are beneficial in slowing tumor progression and have shown positive effects against prostate, liver, breast, ovarian, and colon cancers.    Although they are often forgotten for the rest of the eleven months out of the year, they are a versatile and healthy fruit which deserves a place on everyone’s shopping list. There are literally thousands of recipes that can showcase the varieties of flavors from cranberries. They can be used in anything from desserts to sauces to marinades, salad dressings and baked goods or even an inviting garnish. In addition to cranberry sauce, we are all familiar with using them in baking, and a favorite way to use them in New England is to bake them into fluffy sweet cornbread or muffins.
Great ways to include cranberries into your weekly routine:
- Make a homemade trail mix with unsalted nuts, seeds and dried cranberries.
- Include a small handful of frozen cranberries in a fruit smoothie.
- Add fresh, frozen cranberries while cooking oatmeal or dried cranberries to whole grain cereal.
- Toss fresh or frozen cranberries into your favorite muffin or quick bread recipe.
- Include fresh or frozen cranberries in an apple dessert like pie or cobbler for an extra kick of flavor.
- Blend them with oil to replace vinegar for a salad dressing
One of my own holiday traditions is making cranberry sauce with my daughter. We love it, and we devised our own delicious, spiced cranberry sauce recipe, which we make together year after year, incorporating some herbal medicine as well. This spicy, not-too-sweet version is a wonderful accompaniment to chicken, turkey and especially pork. Try it in place of applesauce with pork chops, roast or ham. Also delicious on sandwiches! It provides all the wonderful health benefits of tart cranberries in a version you can use many different ways. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do!
SPICED CRANBERRY SAUCE
2 packages (24 oz) of fresh cranberries (usually sold in 12 oz packages)
1 cup orange juice
1 orange (well washed)
2 inch piece of fresh ginger
2 cinnamon sticks, each broken into 3 pieces
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
Into ½ cup of filtered water in a saucepan, add one broken cinnamon stick and the cloves. Cover and simmer gently for 15 minutes while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
With a cheese grater, grate the orange peel until you have at least 1 tablespoon of orange peel and zest. Use the large grater holes so you have shavings of orange peel. Add this to the simmering water. Peel off the remaining skin of the orange and set it aside.
Peel the ginger, and grate it until you have at least 2 teaspoons of fresh grated ginger.
Rinse the cranberries in a colander, and set aside.
Now, remove the whole spices from the simmering spice water by pouring through a mesh strainer, and return the spiced water to the saucepan. Add the cup of orange juice, the cranberries, the orange peel, the grated ginger, the remaining cinnamon stick and ½ cup of sweetener (honey or sugar).
Simmer covered on low, for about 30 minutes until the cranberries soften into sauce. (Add additional water or juice if needed while simmering). Taste and add additional sweetener if desired. Remove from heat when cranberry sauce is the perfect consistency.
Cut up the peeled orange into small pieces, and stir into the hot cranberries. The chopped orange provides a sweet crunch and counterpoint to the tart berries. Pour into a serving bowl and enjoy! Makes at least 8-12 half cup servings. Freezes well.
- https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/cranberry. Accessed 12/9/2016
- Bomser J, Madhavi DL, Singletary K, et al. In vitro anticancer activity of fruit extracts from Vaccinium species. Planta Med. 1996;62(3):212-216.2
- Prasain JK. Effect of cranberry juice concentrate on chemically-induced urinary bladder cancers. Oncol Rep. 2008;19(6)1565-70.
Lisa Murray RDN, LD