It’s cranberry season!   Cranberries are a member of the Ericaceae family, along with blueberries and rhododendrons.  They grow wild in the northern regions of Asia, Europe and America. Cranberry’s peak season is from October-January. Each year America produces over 150 tons of cranberries for commercial use most of which is grown in the Cape Cod region.  These commercial berries are much larger than their wild cousins that were used and treasured by Native Americans. Although these little gems make their appearance at the Thanksgiving table you may want to consider getting them into your diet regularly.

A little history

Essential to Native American life, cranberries were used in everyday cooking, spiritual ceremonies, to dye cloth, and to make pemmican–a mash up of dried meat, fruit and grains–think of it as an earlier, much easier to digest powerbar.  Medicinally, the berries were used to stop and regulate bleeding and  to treat urinary tract disorders (UTIs).

Western nutritional highlights

Cranberries are a fabulous low calorie food, offering a meager 46 calories per cup. They are packed with vitamin C, manganese and copper.  Cranberries are also filled with fiber, both soluble and insoluble, making them an important food for bowel health.  Vivid red and purple color means they are bursting with antioxidants to battle off cancer and free-radicals.

In 1994 JAMA (Journal of American Medical Association) published a study regarding cranberries and UTIs.  The study not only found cranberries to be beneficial in the treatment of chronic or acute UTIs but it also in their prevention.  Why? Cranberries contain a compound called proanthocyanidins (PACs) which inhibits the fimbrial adhesions of bacteria (including E-coli) in the urinary tract. These adhesions are required if the bacteria is to take hold in the lining of the bladder.  Studies have also shown cranberries to be effective in the treatment and prevention of Kidney stones. The redder the berry the higher the antioxidants and the levels of PACs. Cranberries also help tonify the bladder and can help with leaking and incontinence. So pucker up and pop some cranberries.

Eastern nutritional energetics and healing properties of cranberries

Asian medicine assigns energetic properties to all food and drink.  Cranberries have a sweet, sour flavor and a cold nature.  They enter the Bladder, Kidney and Liver.  What does this mean?  They stabilize, astringe and purge heat.  I’ll explain…

Stabilize and astringe–While cranberries do have a sugar content and are sweet in flavor this is a ‘full’ sweet meaning it strengthens (stabilize) rather than breaks down the organs.  Their sour flavor means they enter the Liver and astringe, tightening up leaking and sagging conditions like excess bleeding and dribbling, incontinence and nocturnal urination.

Purges heat, damp heat and toxins in Bladder and Kidneys–Cranberries cold thermodynamic nature mean they cut out heat.  As the berry specifically enters the Bladder and the Kidneys cooling and clearing out the toxins and patterns of infections. Difference between heat and damp heat?  Damp heat will have a cloudy urination with burning and patterns of phlegm or mucus, whereas the heat will have scanty clear urination with burning and no patterns of mucus or phlegm.  As it treats both, you need not worry about assessing it.

Benefits the Bladder and the Kidneys–Don’t have a urinary or stone problem?  Cranberries are still beneficial, helping to keep the system clear and tonify the urinary tract.

Contraindications for cranberries-Those who have extremely tight ligaments and tendons should use cranberries with caution.

Ways to use cranberries

  • Slice cranberries over salads— Fresh or dried, they will add a tangy zip to your salad.
  • Use them in granola or cereal-Toss dried cranberries into granola or over hot grain cereals like oatmeal or cream of barley.
  • Drink cranberries–This is actually how most cranberries in the US are consumed.  The problem lies in the amount of sugar or corn syrup added to the drinks to make them palatable to America’s overly sweet tooth.  That sugar does more than decay teeth, it upsets blood sugar balance and feeds infections like UTI’s and over growth of yeast.  Turn to organic, sugar free products like RW Knudsen Just Cranberry.  If it is too tart for your taste, start by cutting it with a little tea or water and add it a wee bit of honey or organic sugar, reducing each time until your taste buds adapt. Try floating a few cranberries in your next cup of tea.  Add them into holiday punches or mulled wine.
  • Stew them–Just like other dried fruits, add them to a little water and stew the down to serve over cereals or as a sauce over meats. A had a neighbor who would serve stewed fruit with nutmeg and cinnamon as a warm winter dessert soup.
  • Add to savory dishes–Goes well with lemon, sage and thyme on white fish.
  • Make a spread or chutney–Cranberry-horseradish spread–lovely to go along with left over turkey.
  • Add them to desserts–Help cut out some of excess sweet of desserts by adding in a few cranberries where appropriate.  They are fabulous with other fruits in crisps, pies and tarts or over a rich cheese cake.
  • Make jelly or chutney–Serve with your favorite bread or use as a glaze for savory dishes.

It’s cranberry season so now so buy a few extra bags and toss them directly into the freezer for later use.

Be well!

April