By Joyce Driemeyer
Although they are not grown in the Midwest, what is more seasonal for the holidays than cranberries? Whether used for condiment or desserts, or for decorative garlands for the birds, the cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) is a true North American native. It is a prostrate 2′-6″ tall mat-forming evergreen plant that grows in moist, acidic bog-like conditions in full sun. Its native habitat is N.E. United States. Acres of cultivated cranberries grow on Cape Cod, where each acre is surrounded by 4-5 acres of protective undeveloped land. This provides pockets for rare plants, insects and birds. The fruit is harvested in fall in time for our holidays.
Nutritionally, cranberries are rich in calcium, potassium and vitamin C as well as antioxidants. The juice has beneficial effects on the urinary tract in warding off infection. Native Americans made a mixture of the berries with meat and fat called “pemmican” for winter storage of food.
This plant is not to be confused with the American cranberry bush (Viburnum trilobum), which gets 8-12′ tall and is used as an informal hedge and for screening in sun or part shade.
Need a gift suggestion for the holidays? Give your favorite cook a copy of the St Louis Herb Society’s new cookbook, Herbal Cookery, available the Missouri Botanical Garden, garden centers and bookstores throughout the region, and on Amazon.com.
Joyce Driemeyer says she’s semi-retired after more than 25 years as a professional landscape designer. She is a Master Gardener, and volunteers, lectures and conducts classes at Missouri Botanical Garden, and has actively served in both the St Louis Herb Society and The Herb Society of America.