It’s cranberry season!

These bright little gems often grace many a Thanksgiving table, their tartness adding a welcome vibrancy to turkey’s muted flavors. Sadly, the holiday table is sometimes the only time they are eaten even though cranberries are packed with nutritional and energetic benefits. Personally, I believe that cranberries should be a regular part of our diets.

Before we move on, lets talk about the current market. In 2019, the international trade wars limited their markets abroad, it seems that is reaching into the 2020 season as well.  Consider helping your bog farmers by picking up a couple extra bags to pop in your freezer for use all year long. Really, they have an incredible freezer life. 

A little background on cranberries

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 with their peak season being October through January. Wild cranberries, a staple in many Indigenous diets are much smaller than the ones that are commercially produced. Each year America produces over 150 tons of cranberries for commercial use most of which is grown in the Cape Cod region. Some will be used fresh and whole, others will be dried, but a lot of mass produced cranberries end up in overly sugary cranberry juice drinks.

Essential to North American Indigenous 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 are used to stop and regulate bleeding and to treat urinary tract disorders. For you Chinese medicine practitioners and students – they strongly astringe the Lower Burner – more on that soon.

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 have both soluble and insoluble fiber 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 (Chinese medicine) assigns energetic properties to all food and drink. This is the post-metabolic phenomenon of the food. Do they heat, do they cool? Do they drain dampness or moisten? Which organ system do they enter. Understanding these dynamics allow us to use the foods to treat disharmonies and balance the body – just fun!

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 urinary 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. Is there a difference between heat and damp heat? Yes, 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. Don’t forget your Kegel exercises! What you’ve never heard of them? Kegels are exercises for the muscles of the pelvic floor – all muscles need worked!  A quick little hunt through the internet and you can find instructions.

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, polenta, millet or teff.
  • 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. You can make your own cranberry juice by simply boiling about 12 oz of frozen berries in 3 – 4 quarts of water. Boil for about 20 minutes then strain the juice off the berries. You can add a little honey or sugar to sweeten the juice if needed. Save the berries and add them to baked goods like apple cobblers or serve over hot grain cereals.
  • 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 meat and fish dishes.
  • 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 – Serve with your favorite bread or use as a glaze for savory dishes.

Don’t forget to get extra and store them. They will keep frozen for more than a year.

Be well!