The American Cranberry is a medium sized, deciduous, berry-producing shrub and native food source.
The bright red fruits have a strong, tart, cranberry flavor, becoming sweeter after Fall frosts. They are small fruits with a large central seed, but with some work, can be sweetened into a rich preserve and/or mixed with other berries to make berry compote. The berries are high in vitamin A and dietary fiber.
American cranberries are also a rich source of antioxidants, a group of biochemicals shown to be an important part of the human diet. Research with fruits shows cultivated blueberries with a score of 24, which is higher than other commercial fruits studied. Anything above 40 is considered very high. American cranberries score much higher at 174. When the berries are processed, antioxidant levels change, but they are still high compared to other fruits.
The American Cranberry richly deserves a place in any native ornamental garden, especially if you have a low moist or wet area that needs planting. This resilient plant comes to life in late spring with clusters of white fragrant flowers. These give way in the fall to brilliant red berries that will often stay on the plant into the winter.
The round, dark green leaves turn reddish maroon in the fall. Because the American cranberry can be grown in wetter, shadier areas it should have a niche in many Pacific Northwest gardens.
Environment and Culture
The American Cranberry is native to Canada and much of North America, it can be found in moist forests and swamps throughout the Pacific Northwest. The berries of the American Cranberry were highly valued by Native Americans, they often stored the berries into late Winter and blended them with oil, fish or meat.
Harvest, Care, and Preparation
The American Cranberry can tolerate some variation in soils, but needs water in the hot dry summers. They will grow in wet soils and in partial shade but will grow much larger when planted in well drained soils with full sun. Harvest the berries in late fall to cook with or ripen in storage, or let them ripen on the plant and eat them after a freeze brings out their innate sweetness. Keep an eye on them, and make sure to harvest them before the birds do!