Eastern Indians called them “sassamanesh.” Cape Cod Pequots and South Jersey Leni-Lenape tribes called them “ibimi,” or bitter berry. The early German and Dutch settlers started calling it the “crane berry” because the flower’s resemblance to the head and bill of a crane. The name stuck for what we now know as the cranberry.
Cranberries are one of only three fruits native to North America. They grow in the wild on long-running vines in sandy bogs and marshes. The berry is initially white but turns to a scarlet color in July and August. Native Americans first saw the benefits of cranberries. They mixed mashed cranberries with deer meat to make a survival food called pemmicana. Cranberries were also believed to have medicinal value and were used in poultices to draw poison from arrow wounds. The red rich juice of the cranberry was used as a natural dye for blankets, clothing and rugs. These are just some of the reasons the cranberry has the nickname the “wonder berry.”
Even with the many uses found for cranberries, they weren’t harvested on a large scale until the 1800s. Initially, cranberries were picked from dry beds by hand. Eventually more efficient harvesting techniques developed and were revolutionized by the wet harvesting process. By flooding bogs with water, the cranberry’s buoyancy allows it to float to the surface where they can be collected.
Cranberries, black raspberries and blueberries all have relatively high oxygen radical absorbance capacity. Foods high in ORAC are believed to provide protection against numerous diseases.
The body produces free radicals through normal metabolic pathways. Other sources of free radical production include exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation, tobacco smoke and exposure to certain naturally occurring chemicals. Throughout the day, we are exposed to many potential sources of free radical production. Cranberries provide antioxidants, compounds that neutralize free radical when they are formed. The body can produce antioxidants naturally, but in times of stress this production is limited. Consuming fruits and vegetables, including cranberries, provides an excellent source of additional antioxidants.
To prevent urinary tract infections the National Kidney Foundation suggests drinking a 10-ounce glass of cranberry juice cocktail a day. Cranberries have proven benefits as anti-adhesion agents. This means that there are elements in cranberries than prevent or stop bacterial adhesion to the walls of the urinary tract. In 2005, France permitted Ocean Spray to make a health claim on its label describing the benefits of cranberry juice against recurrent cystitis in adult women.
Preliminary research has shown that drinking cranberry juice daily may increase levels of HDL, or good cholesterol, and reduce levels of LDL, or bad cholesterol. Extracts of chemicals in cranberries prevent breast cancer cells from multiplying in a test tube; whether they would work in humans is unknown. The National Institutes of Health is funding research on the cranberry’s effects on heart disease, yeast infections and other conditions, and other researchers are investigating its potential against cancer, stroke and viral infections.
The berry has slightly acidic and sour flavors. Recent dental research has shown that dried berry fruit has favorable anti-decay benefits, mostly likely because of the antioxidants in cranberries and grapes.
Available year round, cranberries are easy to incorporate into your daily diet. They also freeze very well either whole or sliced. Try them dried in oatmeal, fresh in a fruit salad, as a sauce with a protein choice or in a fruit juice cocktail. All forms provide beneficial proanthycyanidins.
• Cranberry juice (10 ounces of 27-percent juice cocktail), 180 calories, 113 milligrams vitamin C
• Fresh cranberries (1½ cups fresh or frozen), 71 calories, 21 milligrams vitamin C
• Dried cranberries (1 ounces sweetened), 95 calories, 0.2 milligrams vitamin C
• Cranberry sauce (½ cup), 144 calories, 90 milligrams vitamin C
Apple Cranberry Marsala
Makes 4 servings
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons butter
⅓ cup Marsala wine
2 tablespoons apple jelly
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cut into 1-4 inch slices
½ cup craisins (dried cranberries)
Season chicken with salt and pepper and set aside. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter into a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook about 4 minutes on each side or until chicken is golden brown and no longer pink inside. Remove to platter and keep warm. Stir wine, jelly and apples into a skillet. Bring to a boil and scrape up the brown bits from the pan. Add dried cranberries. Cook 1-2 minutes or until slightly thickened. Spoon over chicken.
Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian and adjunct nutrition instructor at Eastern Maine Community College who lives in Athens. Read more of her columns and post questions at bangordailynews.com or email her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.