Scientific Name: Vaccinium macrocarpon

Also Known as: Cranberry, marshwort, fenberry, mossberry

Native to: North America

Some Traditional Uses: Wound dressings, pemmican, dye (Native American). Bladder and urinary problems, cancer, gall bladder attacks, and more (early North American settlers).

Current Medicinal Uses and Purposes: Fights bladder and urinary tract infections 

Side Effects and Contraindications: May cause diarrhea or gastrointestinal problems if more than 3-4 liters ingested per day. People on warfarin, irritable bowel, or calcium oxalate kidney stones should check with a trained health professional before taking.

Areas of Further Research: Activity against antibiotic-resistant bacteria; kidney-stone prevention; ulcer and dental plaque prevention

Photo compliments of


Listen to the Plant Detective radio show about Cranberry


Photo compliments of Gaia Herbs, Inc.

Cranberry, Vaccinium macrocarpon, is native to North America. A few other species of cranberry exist elsewhere in the world, for example, in Europe. Cranberry plants are small and like a lot of water. The ruby-red berries help prevent urinary tract and bladder infections by making it tough for bacteria to cling to bladder and urinary tract walls. This is known as an anti-adhesion effect. Blueberry has the same effect, also preventing bacteria from sticking and allowing the body to flush the invaders out. Cranberry is good taken preventively and can sometimes help, in quantities, at the onset of symptoms. While it can't hurt to take cranberry once an infection has taken hold, you probably can't rely on it to cure an infection.

"Cran" comes from "crane." People named the berries after the long, tall birds either because the like to eat the berries or because parts of the plant resemble a crane.

Sandhill Crane photo compliments of Tom Nicholls, Nature Education Center, Fifield, WI

Cranberry plants and their branches are referred to by farmers as "vines." And that's what the low-growing plant is, officially: a woody evergreen vine.

White cranberries are mature cranberries simply picked a few weeks early. To some, their taste isn't as tart as that of red cranberries.

Pure cranberry juice in about as sour as lemon juice.  To benefit from cranberries you can just eat or drink them--sweetened or not!

According to the Cranberry Institute, a cranberry industry group located in East Wareham, Massachusetts, Revolutionary War veteran Henry Hall planted the first commercial cranberry beds in the U.S. in Dennis Massachusetts in 1816. Today, cranberries are farmed on approximately 40,000 acres (16,200 hectares) across the northern United States and Canada.

The state of Wisconsin produces the most cranberries in the United States (cranberry is that state's official state fruit), followed by Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington State. In Canada, farmers grow cranberries in British Columbia, New Brunswick, Ontario, Nova Scotia, and Quebec. Chile, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and eastern Europe also produce cranberries. 

Cranberry Museums

Visit the following to learn more about cranberries.

The Pacific Coast Cranberry Research Foundation's Cranberry Museum in Long Beach, Washington State grows berries, conducts research, and offers walking tours of bogs, a gift shop, and lots of good historical information.

The Wisconsin Cranberry Discovery Center. A museum and visitor center in Warrens, Wisconsin, run by the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association. Housed in a former cranberry sorting warehouse. Offers tours during harvest time and exhibits on cranberry-related local history, including the workshop of a carpenter who made cranberry handrakes, a dugout canoe found in a cranberry bog, and an early Ford truck used on a cranberry farm. Gift shop and Taste Test Kitchen.

Photo compliments of Wisconsin Cranberry Discovery Center

Furford Cranberry Museum, Grayland, Washington. 360-267-3303 or 5403.

The former Cranberry World of Plymouth, Massachusetts, associated with Ocean Spray, is no longer. What remains of it is an exhibit upstairs at Edaville USA, an amusement park in South Carver, Mass (1-877-EDAVILLE).

Sturgeon River House, Sturgeon Falls, Ontario. Cranberries grow naturally along the museum's trails, and the museum hosts an annual cranberry festival.



Cranberry Recipes

Since The Plant Detective is a public and community radio show, we reprint this recipe made famous by National Public Radio correspondent Susan Stamberg.

Mama Stamberg's Cranberry Relish

2 cups whole raw cranberries, washed
1 small onion
3/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons horseradish from a jar (red is a bit milder than white)

Grind the raw berries and onion together. ("I use an old-fashioned meat grinder," says Stamberg. "I'm sure there's a setting on the food processor that will give you a chunky grind -- not a puree.")

Add everything else and mix.

Put in a plastic container and freeze.

Early Thanksgiving morning, move it from freezer to refrigerator compartment to thaw. ("It should still have some little icy slivers left.")

The relish will be thick, creamy, and shocking pink. ("OK," Stamberg says, "Pepto Bismol pink. It has a tangy taste that cuts through and perks up the turkey and gravy. It's also good on next-day turkey sandwiches, and with roast beef.")

Makes 1 1/2 pints.

Photo by Pat Breen, Oregon State University (

Making Pemmican

Here's a recipe adapted from The Voyageur News, North American Voyageur Council, Inc., Winter 1981. It was originally submitted to that publication by "the Dooleys of Boise," who got it from a Chippewa man they met, who got it from his father. Also, the Physical Mind website has good information about making pemmican--you can judge how to add in cranberries (as it is known some native peoples did).

(One Batch, or 3 1/2 pounds)

4 cups dried meat. Use only deer, moose, caribou, or beef, not pork or bear. Depending on how lean it is, this can mean 1 to 2 pounds per cup. To make, get meat as lean as possible from your butcher and already double ground if you don't have a meat grinder. Spread it out thinly on cookie sheets and dry overnight at 180 degrees until crispy and sinewy. Regrind or break into almost a powder.

3 cups dried fruit to taste. Mix currants, cranberries, apricots, dried apples. Grind some and leave some lumpy for texture.

2 cups rendered beef fat

Unsalted nuts to taste

A shot of honey

Combine and mix in bowl. Double-bag into four portions. The mixture will last for quite a while without refrigeration.

Hint: Vary the fat content according to the temperature in which it will be consumed, i.e., less fat in summer, lots during winter.

Jack Potter (above) of Potter Cranberry Company, Warrens. He harvests most of his cranberries with a water-reel harvester for processed use (juice, sauce, etc.), but harvests a few with an old-time rake to give his harvest crew, friends and family. So this is NOT typical of what someone would see today. But most growers have a handrake or two around for getting berries the harvesting machines miss or--like Jack--to harvest for fresh-fruit use. (Photo and information from the Wisconsin Cranberry Discovery Center)

Cranberry growers harvest cranberries by flooding the fields with water.  The berries float to the top of the water, where they are corraled and gathered.

Photo by Keith Weller, USDA/ARS

Cranberries bounce. Growers actually use this property in sorting the good from the bad. Supposedly, in the late 1800s, a New Jersey cranberry grower named John Webb discovered that only good-quality berries bounce. So today, during sorting, berries are "bounced" at most seven times over 4-inch barriers. Any that don't clear the hurdles are rejected.

Cranberry References for The Plant Detective Radio Show

Avorn, Jerry, Mark Monane, Jerry H. Gurwitz, Robert J. Glynn, Igor Choodnovskiy, and Lewis A. Lipsitz. "Reduction of Bacteriuria and Pyuria after Ingestion of Cranberry Juice." JAMA March 9, 1994; 271 (10): 751.

Lawrence Review of Natural Products. "Cranberry." St Louis, MO: Facts and Comparisons, Jul 1994.

Rosencrans, Joyce. "Bounce Berries: Fruit-of-the-Bog Cranberries are Native American." Cincinnati Post Nov. 13, 2002.

Siciliano, Arthur A. "Cranberry." HerbalGram 38: 51-54.

University of California at Berkeley Wellness Letter. "And Berry Good Medicine." Aug 1994; 10 (11): 7.

Werbach, Melvyn R., and Michael T. Murray. Botanical Influences on Illness: A Sourcebook of Research. Tarzana, CA: Third Line Press, 1994, 17, 206-7, 232.