Cranberry: Top reasons why you should grow this “superfruit” in your own backyard


Last Updated June 13th, 2021

Where do cranberries grow?

Cranberries are evergreen dwarf shrubs that are native to North America. The plant is approximately 5 to 20 centimeters in height and has vines that grow up to 2 meters. The fruit is initially green but turns red when it ripens. Cranberries are edible but have an acidic taste. Due to this reason, they are not eaten raw. People consume cranberries as juice, which is sweetened or blended with other fruits. Cranberries are also used for making jams, sauces, powders, and extracts used in supplements.

A brief history

Cranberries were first harvested in the 14th century by Native Americans, who used them in medicines, foods, and drinks.  The commercial cultivation of cranberries in the US started in 1816 by Captain Henry Hall, a Revolutionary war veteran.  He noticed that wild cranberries in the bogs thrived when sand blew over them. He then started using this technique to cultivate cranberries and his idea was soon copied.

The idea of growing cranberries commercially soon gathered momentum and many people started converting their swamps, wetlands and wet meadows into cranberry bogs.

Cranberry sauce was first made available in 1912 when a lawyer named Marcus L. Urann got an idea to can cranberries. He founded the cranberry cooperative that was later renamed Ocean Spray. By the mid 20th century, cranberry sauce had become a hit among Americans.

Today, the cranberry industry continues to grow and evolve as more and more benefits of eating the super fruit are discovered.

Can cranberries be eaten raw?

Cranberries can be eaten raw but their sour acidic taste may not be very pleasing to everyone. Raw cranberries may also cause some problems for the body. Furthermore, the high acidity in cranberries may also damage the enamel on the teeth.  That is why it is advisable to brush your teeth after eating raw cranberries.

People who have heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease should also avoid eating raw cranberries as they may aggravate the condition.

Nutritional facts

Cranberries are considered very healthy due to their high antioxidant content. 100 gm of raw, unsweetened cranberries contain

  • Water: 87%
  • Fiber: 4.6 g
  • Protein: 0.4 g
  • Carbs: 12.2 g
  • Sugar: 4 g
  • Fat: 0.1 g
  • Total Calories: 46

Vitamins

Cranberries are a good source of several vitamins, especially vitamin C. Some of the vitamins present in cranberries are

  • Vitamin A (35 IU): This is an essential nutrient that is vital for growth, vision, and reproduction. Recommended daily allowance (RDA) for adults: 700 to 900 mcg.
  • Vitamin E (72 mg): This is needed for the proper function of many organs in the body. It is also an antioxidant that helps in slowing aging. Recommended daily allowance (RDA) for adults: 15 mg.
  • Vitamin C (7 mg): This is required in the repair of tissue and the enzymatic production of certain neurotransmitters. It is also required for the proper functioning of the immune system. Recommended daily allowance (RDA) for adults: 65 -90 mg.
  • Vitamin K (75 mcg): This is required for the synthesis of certain proteins that are required for blood clotting. Vitamin K is also required for the binding of calcium in bones and other tissues.

Minerals

  • Zinc (0.05 mg): This is needed to maintain a healthy immune system. Zinc deficiency makes a person susceptible to disease. Recommended dietary allowance: 8 mg a day for women and 11 mg a day for men.
  • Folate (0.5 mcg): This is needed in the production of DNA. The cells also need folate to divide. Recommended dietary allowance for adults: 400 mg a day.
  • Sodium (1 mg): This is needed by the body for fluid balance, muscle contraction, and nervous system function. Recommended dietary allowance for adults: 1500 mg a day.
  • Potassium (44 mg): This is needed by the body to regulate fluids and mineral balance. Potassium also helps maintain normal blood pressure by neutralizing the effects of sodium. Recommended dietary allowance for adults: 1600-2000 mg a day.
  • Phosphorus (6 mg): This is needed by the body to build healthy bones and teeth. Phosphorus also helps maintain pH balance in the body. Recommended dietary allowance for adults: 700 mg a day.
  • Magnesium (3.5 mg): This is required by the body to maintain the nerve and muscle function. It also helps keep the heart rate steady and regulate the glucose levels in the blood. Recommended dietary allowance for adults: 310-420 mg a day.
  • Iron (0.12 mg): This is required by hemoglobin to transport oxygen. It also helps remove carbon dioxide from the blood. Recommended dietary allowance for adults: 13.7–15.1 mg a day.
  • Calcium (5 mg): This is needed by the body to build and maintain bones and teeth. Recommended dietary allowance for adults: 1000 mg a day.

Facts on cranberries

  • Massachusetts, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington are the five states that are known for cultivating cranberries.
  • Cranberries grow from October until December.
  • Only about 5% of cranberries are sold fresh, with the rest being made into cranberry juice, sauce, and jam.
  • Popular to contrary belief, cranberry does not grow in the water
  • Cranberries are also known as bearberries (This is because bears also eat them)
  • Native Americans used cranberries to take out the poison from snakebites.
  • Cranberry is a shorter version of its original name crane berry.
  • In the past, cranberry was used as a source of vitamin C.
  • Cranberry plants live for more than 2 years in the wild
  • 400 million pounds of cranberries are eaten by Americans per year
  • The Great Cranberry Scare of 1959 caused the industry market crash.

Benefits of eating cranberries

Many consider cranberry to be a superfood as it has a lot of medicinal properties. They are loaded with essential nutrients and have very few calories. In terms of antioxidants, this fruit nearly outranks every other. Only blueberries have more antioxidant capability than cranberries.  The benefits of eating cranberries are endless. Here are a few important ones

Prevents Urinary tract infections

Cranberries are widely known for their role in preventing urinary tract infections. The high level of antioxidant proanthocyanidins in the fruit prevents certain bacteria from attaching to the urinary tract walls.

Prevents Cancer

Studies have shown that the consumption of cranberries can help prevent the formation of certain cancers including the ones in the prostate, liver, breast, ovarian, and colon. The chemicals in organic cranberries also prevent the spread of breast cancer cells.

Slows down aging

As cranberries are full of antioxidants, they have anti-aging properties.

Improves cardiovascular health

Cranberries are filled with polyphenols (an antioxidant) and this may help improve the heart. A study showed that people who drank cranberry juice over a period of eight weeks had lower levels of C-reactive protein, triglycerides, blood pressure, glucose levels, and insulin resistance. All of these can trigger cardiovascular problems.

Improves Digestion

Cranberries improve digestion and can help cut the risk of peptic ulcers. Cranberries inhibit the growth of Helicobacter pylori, a type of bacteria that causes peptic ulcers.

Helps fight infections

Cranberries inhibit the growth of Haemophilus influenza, a type of bacteria that is responsible for a common cause of ear and respiratory infections in children.  Cranberries also help fight against seven other strains of bacteria and the norovirus.

Prevents Tooth Decay

Research has indicated that cranberries can prevent tooth cavities. Cranberries contain a chemical compound known as proanthocyanidins, which prevents harmful bacteria from clinging on to the teeth. Cranberries also inhibit the formation of plaque.

Who should avoid cranberries?

Although cranberries have a lot of benefits, they also have a handful of side effects. These are:

Those with a history of kidney stones

Cranberries have a high concentration of oxalate and calcium, which increases the risk of developing kidney stones in some people. Due to this reason, people who have a family history of kidney stones should consult a doctor before consuming cranberries.

Those who are allergic to aspirin

If you are allergic to aspirin then you shouldn’t consume cranberries since they contain salicylic acid, a compound similar to aspirin.

How many cranberries should you eat every day?

Although there are no recommendations on how many cranberries should be consumed every day, studies have shown that drinking 8 ounces of unsweetened cranberry juice three times a day may help prevent urinary tract infections.

Are cranberry pills safe?

Cranberry pills are oral supplements that are mostly made out of dried and powdered cranberries. They provide the same health benefits as fresh cranberries, with some pills even being fortified with additional nutrients. One cranberry pill generally contains the same amount of nutrients present in an 8-ounce glass of pure cranberry juice.

Cranberry pills usually don’t cause any problems but a few people have experienced some discomfort after taking these pills. These are

  • Stomach discomfort
  • Abdominal pain
  • Increased urination

Grow cranberries in your garden

Although cranberries are usually grown in bogs, you can grow them in your own garden, provided the conditions are right.  Cranberries usually only grow in cold climates so if you live in a warm place you won’t be able to grow them.

The first thing you need to do is determine the pH of your soil. Cranberries usually thrive in soils that have pH levels of less than five. You then need to check the pH of the water as that may change the pH of the soil.  Growing cranberries from seeds are not recommended as that may prove to be difficult. You should be able to get a rooted cranberry seedling from a local grower, mail order or the internet.

After you get the seedlings, plant each one in a one square foot area. You need to water the seedlings daily for the first couple of weeks until they start growing. After that, you can water every alternate day. Remember to keep the seedling moist but not drenched. You can then start fertilizing every 3-4 weeks with a slow-release fertilizer. The plant will start bearing fruit after a year.


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