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In a Nutshell – Cranberry – Vaccinium macrocarpon
by Jill Rosemary Davies

Long before the Pilgrim Fathers had discovered the medicinal and culinary benefits of Cranberries, native peoples in both Northern Europe and the (as yet) undiscovered New World were knowledgeable about their therapeutic qualities. Native American Indians, in particular, recognised the healing and nutritional properties of Cranberry, using it to treat scurvy and fevers. Cranberry is an astringent, antiseptic and tonic and contains an extraordinarily rich mix of vitamins, minerals, and flavonoids.

Contents

Introduction

Exploring Cranberry

A history of healing

Anatomy of Cranberry

Cranberry in action

Energy and emotion

Flower remedies

Growing, Harvesting, and Processing

Preparations for internal use

Drink

Tincture

Decoction

Syrup

Cranberry and apple tea

Cranberry and thyme jelly

Cranberry and apple crumble

Preparations for external use

Poultice

Douche

Natural medicine for everyone

Herbal combinations

How Cranberry works

Glossary

Introduction

Long before the Pilgrim Fathers discovered the medicinal and culinary benefits of Cranberries, native peoples in both Northern Europe and the (as yet) undiscovered New World were knowledgeable about the therapeutic qualities of all members of the Vaccinium family, which includes Blueberries, Bilberries, Cowberries and Cranberries. They used them to remedy ailments as diverse as scurvy and gout. Nowadays it is a highly prized super fruit and cystitis remedy.

The Cranberry plant, growing in the wild, is a neat, evergreen, prostrate shrub or trailing vine. The small oblong-ovate leaves – similar in appearance to those of box plants – are shiny, dark green above and grey–green underneath, with slightly curling edges. When the plant blooms in midsummer, it has delicate, rose-tinted flowers, which grow singly or in groups of as many as ten on a single shoot, upon slender stems arising from the leaf axils. The unexpanded flower and slender corolla resemble a crane's head and neck – hence the name Cranberry. The fruit is ready for picking in the early autumn.

Cranberries are an invaluable source of vitamin C, minerals and fibre; they are also strongly astringent with a high acid content and little natural sugar. The scarlet berries are round, becoming slightly oval at one end and are usually larger than blackcurrants, which they resemble. The larger American variety, Vaccinium macrocarpon, is particularly rich in pectin, which means it is excellent for making preserves and requires little cooking, so loss of nutrients is minimal. This is one reason why the Cranberry became such a useful fruit for explorers and settlers. In the past, it was popular in juices, jellies and relishes, which enlivened the table and provided a much-needed source of vitamins throughout the months when fresh fruit was unavailable. The fresh berries are covered with a waxy coating, which helps to preserve them, so they are slow to decay and they dry well. The American Cranberry is more robust that the European variety, but will thrive only on heath land. Its preferred habitat is the acidic soil and peat of open bogs, wet shores and grassy swamps, and occasionally poorly drained upland meadows and salt marshes.

Cranberries are chamaephyte shrubs, meaning that their winter buds are situated close to the soil's surface.

Definition

Botanical family: Cranberry is part of Ericaceae – the heather family. It is related to the rhododendron Arbutus (strawberry tree) and to other medicinal herbs such as Uva Ursi.

Species: The genus contains about 150 species and because of the confusion arising from intermingling of botanical and common names within folklore, identification is somewhat erratic. However, the best known species, the Large or American Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon), has been developed by selected cultivation on a commercial scale from the indigenous Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccus) of North and Central Europe, North Asia and North America.

Exploring Cranberry

Cranberries are nowadays best known as a traditional part of the Thanksgiving meal. They have an ancient history, but there is very little documented on the early therapeutic use of Cranberries. 

Records show that early European adventurers on the American continent could survive on a bag of dried Cranberries alone, indicating that they were aware of the berry's nutritional and healing powers. 

There are recorded instances of the seeds of members of the Vaccinium family being found on Iron Age sites. Later, the Romans in Britain thought that Cranberries may have been used in primitive pagan rituals practised by the indigenous island tribes. They also believed that these berries enabled their enemies to see in the dark. The skin of Bilberries is particularly well known for its content of anthocyanidins, bioflavonoids and vitamin C, which act on the retina of the eye to improve vision, particularly at night. However, in the case of the Roman invaders these claims may have been an excuse, on occasion, for being outdone.

Throughout Northern and Central Europe, Cranberries and other members of the Vaccinium family were used in strengthening brews and liquors. The berries were gathered and dried to provide both sustenance and protection against vitamin deficiency. They would have been particularly valuable in cold climates, where people had to endure long winter months without fresh food and with little sun. They would have been abundantly collected amongst the peat bogs and moors which have much reduced now. However, they can still be found in the Peak District, Derbyshire, Lancashire, and a little in Lincolnshire where they were once prolific before the draining of the fens.

Native Americans had long understood the value of the Cranberry. They used it as a healing plant and ground it into 'pemmican' – a mash of meat and fat – to sustain them on long hunts. A similar type of pemmican was made by the hunter-gatherers of Northern Europe and Asia. This nutritious mash was invaluable in the winter when food was scarce. However, by the time that the New World was 'discovered', many of these ancient recipes had been lost.

Cranberry and Thanksgiving Day

Whether or not it is true, it is said that the Cranberry was reinstated as a valuable food on the first Thanksgiving Day. At the onset of winter, inexperienced settlers who were new to North America found themselves with failed crops and facing starvation. A tribe of Native Americans, realising their plight, brought them meat, fruit and vegetables, among which were turkey and cranberries. Everyone sat down together to enjoy the feast in friendship and the settlers gave thanks to God for their deliverance from certain death. (What then is the Christmas tradition of Cranberry sauce? Was borrowed from Thanksgiving or did it precede it? Either way it helps break down the heavier foods on the menu.)

So highly prized did Cranberries become that, in 1677, ten barrels were shipped back to England from the American colonies as a placatory gift for King Charles II, and later they were exported to Europe on a regular basis.

In 1775, American officer Colonel James Smith wrote that he had seen Cranberries growing in swamps. He observed that they were gathered by Native Americans, a practice later enthusiastically adopted by colonial settlers.

In 1800, plantation owner Eli Howes produced the first cultivars from wild plants at East Dennis, Massachusetts and in 1816, Henry Hill, a Cranberry farmer on Cape Cod, observed that his berries grew larger and juicier when sand from nearby dunes blew over the vines. From then on, these became the preferred conditions for growing berries.

As cultivation took off, swampy wastelands were drained and turned into plantations. By 1912, 26,300 acres of Cranberries were farmed and 512,000 barrels of fruit harvested per year. The huge commercial Cranberry enterprise now harvests in excess of 4.7 million barrels of fruit a year.

As settlements expanded into towns, there was fierce competition between families to be the first into the bogs to gather sufficient quantities of Cranberries to see them through the winter months. In order to establish fair play, a rule was imposed: no one could pick more than one quart per person before September 20th each year. In 1773, in one town in Cape Cod, anyone who 'jumped the gun' had the illegal haul confiscated and was fined one dollar.

Commercial growers

The main commercial growers are in the United States, where Cranberries are cultivated extensively in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Oregon and Washington. They are also widely grown in Quebec and British Columbia in Canada. Every acre of Cranberry bog is supported by four to ten acres of wetlands, woodlands and uplands. North American growers preserve almost 200,000 acres of support land, growing Cranberries on 35,000 acres. In this way, not only does commerce thrive but also vast tracts of natural habitat are provided for wildlife.

Growers belong to cooperatives that enforce high standards and quality of Cranberry products.

Soil requirements

The needs of the Cranberry plant are very particular. In the wild, they will only grow successfully in open bogs and marshes that contain a high percentage of sand that has an acid pH of 4.0–6.1. Under cultivation, the vine cuttings are planted in bogs or marshes where former peat swamps have been cleared and levelled before being covered with an 8 cm (3 in) layer of sand. A combination of acid peat soil and sand, together with a good supply of fresh water, is essential.

A History of Healing

One of the first medical texts to mention Cranberries was written in 1578 when Henry Lyte, a herbalist squire, mentioned their use in his Niewe Herball, a work translated from the Flemish. This impressive volume can still be viewed at his family home, the National Trust property of Lytes Cary in Somerset, England.

Before the 17th century and the 'discovery' of the New World, the therapeutic uses of Cranberry had lapsed into obscurity. This decline in popularity may have been because Cranberry was a bog-dwelling plant, and thus not as easily gathered as other species of Vaccinium. Another possibility may be that it was much localised and became even more so as swampy marshlands were enclosed or drained.

Both Virgil and Pliny referred to the generic name for Cranberry (Vaccinium) in their writings. Some people believed the word to be a corruption of 'hyacinthus' while others considered that it was named after the cow (vacca in Latin). This learned dithering may be the reason why there are few references to Cranberry in old herbals. There is undoubtedly confusion regarding the plants' classification – caused by the free exchange of the same common name between various species. Geoffrey Grigson, in The Englishman's Flora, gives some indication of how local names changed as they jumped county borders and how one person's Cranberry became another’s Fenberry.

Although it is not possible to identify the Cranberry positively in ancient writings, Vaccinium is known to have been used in healing from the 16th century onward. Several 17th century remedies refer to a decoction of Cranberry leaves for the treatment of gout and rheumatism, but herbal texts disagree as to whether Cranberries were an excellent cure for diarrhoea or whether they relieved constipation. However, most texts concluded that the dried berry, chewed well, was generally beneficial.

The great majority of the healing remedies that continued to be known in Europe were those of the country 'goodwife' (housewife), which were passed on by word of mouth. Domestic they may have been, but remedies such as mash of Cranberries and buttermilk to treat erysipelas (a bacterial infection of the skin) would probably have brought immediate and effective relief.

Cranberry juice was also traditionally used to cure eczema and other skin disorders.

The Native Americans had a thorough knowledge of how to treat deficiency diseases – of which, at the time, Europeans were in relative ignorance. In 1638, John Josselyn, gentleman and traveller, observed that New England natives used Cranberry to treat scurvy and fevers.

It was also discovered that some American tribes used a Cranberry poultice to draw poison from wounds, and the juice to alleviate skin rashes caused by insect stings and plants. Another habit observed was the drinking of Cranberry juice by Native American women. This was a practice eagerly taken up by colonial settlers, who realised that it brought considerable relief for 'women's troubles' – namely cystitis and urinary and genital infections.

Recent history

Traditional cures for scurvy, dehydrated Cranberries were eaten by US troops serving abroad in World War II. Soon scientists and doctors came to realise that, in addition to its high levels of vitamin C, Cranberry had other beneficial effects – particularly in reducing bacterial infections of the bladder. Although a controversial issue, since no scientific studies had yet been carried out, it was suggested in 1914 that Cranberries were particularly rich in benzoic acid, which is useful in the treatment of urinary tract infections.

From 1920 to 1970, further research was carried out and a compound was isolated called quinic acid, which is believed to be an inhibitor of bacterial growth in the urinary tract.

Cranberry is now widely used in the treatment of urinary tract infections. Extensive research programs have been carried out in the US at the Brigham and Women's Hospital, a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, into the effects of Cranberry juice on urinary tract infections. These have shown that there is good scientific evidence to prove that Cranberry juice is an effective treatment for these conditions. Further research continues in order to isolate the specific factor or factors that have this effect.

In culinary use, Cranberry is nowadays most obviously identified as the traditional gastronomic partner to turkey, particularly in the US. Long used in Europe as an accompaniment to rich foods, most notably game and venison, it plays its part not only in enhancing flavours but also as an aid to digestion.

Anatomy of Cranberry

Although the large, rich, red berries of the American Cranberry are the most easily available, the small, wild berries also contain the same nutrients – simply a little less pectin. The leaves of all varieties of Vaccinium, except the cultivated Cranberry, also have the potential for healing. The delicate Cranberry flowers may be seen on heaths in the Spring.

Fruit

The fruit of the Cranberry is the part of the plant most often used in therapeutic practice. In the autumn, the low-growing shrub produces bright red, broadly oval berries similar to blackcurrants but with twice the fibrous, acidic and astringent pulp and numerous seeds, making them not entirely palatable when eaten raw. Traditional remedies generally used dried or fresh fruit, but most modern recipes are based on the juice. The pulp and seeds of the berries are a rich source of pectin which, when mixed with a sweetener and the natural acid of the fruit, forms a jelly.

Fruits that are gathered for juices or sauces are harvested 'wet', while berries destined to be sold whole, either fresh or dried, are harvested 'dry'. (See the pages on 'Growing, Harvesting and Processing' for more information.)

Chemical constituents

Cranberries are astringent, antiseptic, and tonic. They have a high nutritional value and contain pectin, sugars, tannins (including arbutin), flavonoids (anthocyanin pigments), carotene, and an extraordinarily rich mix of vitamins and minerals. Most important is the antiscorbutic (scurvy-preventing) vitamin C, which is present in large quantities; they also contain vitamin A and B vitamins including riboflavin and niacin. Cranberries are rich in minerals – sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, sulphur, iron, and iodine – and a unique blend of organic acids: quinic, malic, and citric acid. Quinic acid is at present considered to be the most important of the three.

It is the presence of tannins, however, that makes the use of Cranberry so effective in the treatment of bladder infections. Tannins are complex mixtures of aromatic acids that have astringent and antiseptic properties. They cause proteins to clump together in mucous membranes. This makes them more rigid and so deprives bacteria of nutrition, aiding the swift healing of wounds, reducing sensitivity and pain, and forming a protective crust. Tannins also help to dry out tissue, which prevents further infection, and can also help to ‘dry’ loose bowels. Research by Howell and others in 1998 revealed that proanthocyanidins (condensed tannins) are the key to the effectiveness of Cranberry in the treatment of urinary tract infections. They prevent the adherence of bacteria to the mucosal walls of the urinary tract, thus keeping the bacteria from multiplying and infecting the host tissue.

Proanthocyanidins and anthocyanins are the glycosides that comprise plant pigment – the purples and reds of autumn leaves, the mauves, reds, and blues of flowers, and the blues and reds of berries, whose colour is dependant upon the pH of the soil in which the plant grows.

The flavonoids in Cranberry enable vitamin C to be better absorbed, retained and utilised by the body. They also strengthen blood vessel walls and increase blood supply to the heart. Flavonoids are compounds that have characteristic variants with differing activities and abilities. For example, they can be antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial.

Cranberry drinks that are to be used for therapeutic purposes should contain the highest percentage possible of pure Cranberry juice and minimal other ingredients. Some Cranberry juices are mixed with other fruit juices to make them more palatable. They also often have water and sugar added to them. The level of sugar in these Cranberry juices can exacerbate some medical conditions so are to be avoided.

To avoid the added sugar, you can buy untreated, dried Cranberries from health food stores. In the UK, frozen fresh ones are found in supermarkets at Christmas time. The fresh berries are naturally sour and sharp, so to make a sauce, simply simmer for 5 minutes in water, adding coconut sugar (which has a lower glycaemic index than ordinary sugar) or wild honey to sweeten if desired.

SHELF LIFE OF FRUIT

Most freshly picked or store-bought Cranberries will last at least three months, and maybe longer if kept covered and refrigerated; dried berries will stay in optimum condition for a year or so. Freezing whole berries or the pulp as soon as possible after picking is an acceptable method of preserving Cranberries without loss of nutrients. They will last up to one year in the freezer.

Leaves

The small, shrubby leaves of the wild Cranberry plant can be used medicinally, but they are not as effective as those of other members of the Vaccinium family, such as Blueberries or Billberries.

Although in no great strength, the leaves contain tannins, organic acids, sugars, vitamin C, and tannins (arbutins). These give them astringent, antiseptic, disinfectant, diuretic, and mildly hypoglycaemic (blood sugar lowering) properties. An infusion or decoction can be used to treat diarrhoea, bedwetting in children, and skin disease.

Shelf life of leaves

Fresh leaves will keep on the twig, in water, until they wilt, and in a polythene bag in the refrigerator for up to one week. Dried leaves will keep for several months if stored in a dry, airtight container.

Cranberry in Action

The leaves and berries of the Cranberry have enjoyed an almost mystical reputation in Europe. A tincture was often recommended in order to retrieve the minds of people considered to be bewitched. Cranberries were scarce and their habitat somewhat remote, and the plants were difficult to harvest, so when used, their success was treated with a certain amount of superstitious awe.

How Cranberry can help

  • Effective against skin conditions and helps to maintain a healthy skin. Cranberries contain antioxidants and anthocyanidins, which help to keep the skin firm and improve elasticity, thereby helping to combat the effects of ageing.
  • Helpful in the treatment of stomach troubles such as diarrhoea, enteritis and dysentery. The fresh and dried fruit and juice has powerful astringent and disinfectant properties due to the content of anthocyanins and tannins. Cranberry can also help to restore mineral levels, which can become depleted in those suffering from these conditions.
  • Fights colds and chills. A handful of dried Cranberries daily is a natural deterrent to catching colds, particularly for children, who may find them a palatable alternative to sweets. A glass of Cranberry juice daily, with or without added fruit juice, will increase the body’s reserves of vitamin C and thereby give additional protection against colds and influenza. Cranberry juice not only helps to restore health, it is also effective in reducing fever.
  • Stimulates the appetite and encourages the digestive juices to break down rich and fatty foods, which is the reason why Cranberry sauce is still served with rich meat and game.
  • Eases infections of the genito-urinary tract (particularly cystitis) that result in a frequent desire to urinate, painful urination and lower back pain. The pure concentrated juice has been shown to have very positive results in the treatment of these painful conditions.

How Cranberry affects the body

  • Half a cup of fresh Cranberries provides 10 per cent of the body’s daily requirement of vitamin C. The body neither stores nor makes this vitamin; a continuous supply must be provided through daily food intake to ensure normal body cell functioning and the formation of healthy collagen, bones, teeth, cartilage, skin and capillary walls. High stress levels, excess alcohol and smoking, infections and fevers all raise the body’s need for vitamin C. This vitamin stimulates the effective action of white blood cells and antibodies, thus strengthening the immune system, and acts as an antioxidant, helping to protect the body from free radical damage.
  • Vitamin C helps from within to heal wounds and burns, because it assists in the formation of strong connective tissue.
  • Vitamin C also helps the body to utilise other nutrients – most particularly iron, calcium, amino acids and vitamins A, B and E. 
  • The astringent properties of Cranberries can tighten and firm living tissue and help to dry up excess secretions. One result of this action is that they can bring relief from diarrhoea.
  • Cranberries are also a natural remedy for intestinal infections. The fresh or dried berries have the advantage of passing through the upper part of the digestive system without affecting it – they only begin to work when they reach the small and large intestine, where they act as an antimicrobial against bacterial infections in the colon.
  • Cranberry juice has a tonic effect on the body and purifies the blood. Certain compounds in the fruit help its nutrients to be assimilated into the bloodstream quickly, thus fortifying the body.
  • Reports from the Journal of the American Medical Association from 1994 indicate that ongoing research could show Cranberry juice produces impressive results in the treatment of urinary tract infections such as kidney and bladder inflammation, painful urination (cystitis) and kidney stones.
  • Cranberries contain acids that are not oxidised in the body. These include quinic acid, which increases urine acidity and decreases the levels of alkali, urea and uric acid without causing acidosis (high blood acidity). By lowering the pH, Cranberry juice creates a less favourable environment for bacteria in the intestines and urinary tract. It also appears to stop bacteria from adhering to mucosal surfaces, thus preventing infections of the bladder and urethra.

When to avoid Cranberry

Although unlikely, it is possible that anyone drinking 1 litre (4 cups) of Cranberry juice daily over a long period of time could develop kidney stones, due to Cranberry's acid content. Paradoxically, up to 300 ml (10 fl oz) Cranberry juice daily reduces the risk of kidney stones and helps to prevent urinary tract infections. Irritable bowel syndrome sufferers may find that copious amounts of Cranberry fruit and juice and little else to eat may aggravate the condition and cause diarrhoea.

Energy and Emotion

The taste of Cranberry juice and of the fresh or dried berry is astringent and acidic. It leaves the mouth feeling thoroughly cleansed and it is this characteristic that indicates its effects upon the body.

Cranberry is a tonic plant and cleanses the body, ridding it of impurities. This is particularly true of the effect that Cranberry has upon the kidneys and urinary tract. When this system malfunctions, it can create feelings of overwhelming lethargy, combined with biliousness and headaches; which in turn can lead to depression and a sense of feeling ‘under par’.

Constipation can also provoke this same listlessness. The fresh or dried Cranberry fruit acts upon the digestive system, regulating it and dissipating toxicity.

The mineral salts in Cranberries can help to bring the chemistry of the blood back into balance. This immediately has an uplifting and invigorating effect upon the body, mind, and emotions.

The vitamin C content can also help to restore health, vitality and energy when the body is under siege from illnesses such as colds and flu, or from injury or self-induced ailments related to stress (for example working too hard, smoking, excessive coffee intake, lack of exercise, and inadequate diet). 

When the balance that allows the organs of the body to function correctly is achieved, emotional and physical harmony is restored. Cranberry ensures that the body’s process of assimilation and elimination are at their most effective.

Energy and the mind

Wise people know that heartache and unhappiness are only made worse by dwelling on misery. In the past, Cranberry was used as a tonic ‘to draw out dark thoughts’ and so it became known as ‘the balm to an aching heart’.

Traditionally, all members of the Vaccinium family were used to counteract the effects of the ‘black arts’. Cranberry fruit was used to ‘purify people’ of the deep fears, darkness, and isolation engulfing those who had been involved with the ‘black arts in this and past lifetimes’.

As a tonic plant, Cranberry can, through its physical effects upon the body, have a profound and positive effect on the mind. It flushes out toxins and, as a result, releases poisons from the mind, body, and spirit. When the body is feeling more energised, the mind becomes less introspective. When energy is renewed, life can be approached with restored vitality and enthusiasm.

Flower Remedies

Cranberry flowers cling with tenacity to the swampland vines on which they grow. They infuse into the spirit a sense of survival and wisdom. This flower remedy is therefore all about helping to fight fear and reduce vulnerability. It helps to calm people’s fears, whether real or imaginary, thereby soothing the mind as well as the body.

To make a flower essence – standard quantity

  • Approx. 375ml (1½ cups) each of spring water and brandy, and 3–4 Cranberry flowers. Carefully select some Cranberry flowers that look healthy and strong, pick them in the early morning and use straight away.​
  • Submerge the flowers into a shallow bowl containing the spring water (use a glass bowl if possible) and place in the sunshine for several hours. If you wish, place a protective covering over the top (freshly washed white muslin is ideal) or leave uncovered while the sun does its work. Choose a very sheltered spot and try to ensure they have at lease 3 hours of continuous sun. If the flowers wilt sooner than this, they can be removed earlier.

  • Remove the flowers, using a twig to lift them out. Measure the remaining liquid and add an equal measure of brandy to preserve the liquid.
  • Pour the mixture into dark glass bottles and label clearly.

Recommended Dosage:

Adults: 4 drops under the tongue 4 times daily, or every half hour in times of crisis.

Children: Over 12 years, adult dose. 7–12 years, half adult dose. 1–7 years, quarter adult dose.

Plant spirit energies

In Europe, the spirit of the small and secretive Cranberry plant was considered to be one of humble yet persistent optimism. This led to people using the leaves and fruit to treat and relieve symptoms that were causing depressive states. However, in the New World, the Cranberry became a symbol of survival and strength. The very nature of its exclusive habitat imparted a sense of tenacious endurance in the communities nearby. This plant can be judged by the effects that its bright berry has upon mind and spirit, and this must be allied to its physical effects, which are, in essence, those of clarity and a bracing, healthy robustness. Perpetually wholesome and invigorating, it at one time ensured the survival of Native Americans and, due to the generosity of those people, brought growth and renewal to another society in need. These are the qualities that Cranberry continues to share with us.

Growing, Harvesting and Processing

Cranberries are known as ‘The Ruby of the Bogs’ and ‘Red Gold’ because of their tendency to grow on vines in bogs or marshes. At the end of the 19th century, demand in the UK was such that Cranberries were imported from Russia and Scandinavia; and during World War ll tons of berries were sent to American troops servicing abroad.

Growing Cranberry

Commercial

Cuttings are taken in middle or late spring from well-established cultivars and set into peaty soil that has been covered with a layer of sand. Fresh water is crucial for successful cultivation. This is controlled by a system of dikes, ditches, and drains.

Cranberry roots are fine and fibrous, with no root hairs, and spread throughout the top 8 cm (3 in) of soil. The root zone of the plant must be moist but not saturated. The bogs are kept dry during the summer and wet during the rest of the year. If frost threatens as harvest time approaches, or the vines need protection during extreme weather, Cranberry plantations are flooded with fresh water overnight to protect the crop.

An efficiently cultivated Cranberry bog will bear fruit three to five years after the vine cuttings are set and will continue to produce berries indefinitely. Pruning the vines takes place in the spring or autumn and weeding in the summer. Fertilising and re-sanding is done every three to four years to maintain the bog.

Home-grown

To grow Cranberries successfully, a moist, peaty soil is required with no lime present. Dig a trench 75 cm (2½ ft) deep. Cover the base with medium-sized stones and a layer of peat and leaf mould. A further layer of sand – 7.5 cm (3 in) deep – will prevent the peat from drifting when flooded and help to retain moisture. Plants should be set 60 cm (2 ft) apart.

Planting should take place in the early autumn, and if it is not possible to obtain locally grown cuttings, then buy the American Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon), which is the most suitable for cultivation. Immediately after planting, the whole bed should be flooded with rainwater or chalk-free water. Do not water again until the following summer (although if it is a very warm spring, it may be necessary to water earlier), when the bed should be flooded from time to time. The rooting medium should never be allowed to dry out completely. Provided that conditions are as close as possible to the Cranberry’s natural habitat, the bed should require no further attention, except for occasional weeding. It should be noted that, because the American Cranberry is a cultivar that has been selected and bred for the excellence of its fruit, its leaves do not have the same therapeutic qualities as those of the wild Cranberry.

Harvesting

Commercial

By the autumn, it is time to begin the harvest. At one time, pickers would work on their knees, pushing scoops in front of them as they moved through the bogs. The scoops had tines, and were large enough to go across a person’s knees. Good, firm berries would pass through the tines without damage. A skilled scooper could harvest an average of 45 kg (100 lb) of Cranberries an hour. In areas where it is impossible to use mechanical pickers, this method of harvesting is still employed.

Nowadays, mechanical pickers, which look like large lawnmowers, are guided around the bogs where they gently comb berries from the vines with moving metal teeth. A conveyor belt then carries the fruit to a box or bag at the rear of the machine. This method – called ‘dry’ harvesting – produces berries that are subsequently sold fresh or dried.

Fruit for processing into juice or sauces is ‘wet’ harvested. The bogs are flooded to a depth of 46 cm (18 in) then a ‘water reel’ machine, similar to a giant eggbeater, churns the water to dislodge the berries. In this way, the berries float up to bob on the surface of the ‘lake’. The floating berries are then corralled by wooden booms called ‘racks’ and taken to waiting trucks.

Home-grown

The berries will be ripe in the early autumn, when they are bright red and firm. Pick them with your fingers or use a scoop. Berries that are squashed or damaged should be discarded. Good, bouncy berries can be frozen and used at a later date, since they lose few of their valuable nutrients this way.

Processing

Commercial

Cranberry growers deliver their berries to a receiving station where a machine blows the leaves and twigs from the fruit.

Fruit to be sold fresh must pass a strict quality test, which makes use of the fact that a good berry will bounce over mini wooden barriers. If a berry does not bounce, it is discarded. ‘Wet harvested’ berries are sorted and colour-graded, then crushed, frozen, or dried for shipment.

Dried Cranberries are becoming more easily available, but they are often treated with vegetable oil and fructose. These berries are less suitable for herbal preparations.

Home-grown

Clean and wash the berries in a large sieve.

To dry the berries, first plunge them into boiling water for 30 seconds to soften their skins and then dip rapidly in cold water. After dipping, put them between sheets of kitchen towels and pat dry. Lay them out on shallow trays and leave out in the sun to dry. Alternatively, place them in a cool oven heated to about 50°C (120°F) for one hour, then increase the temperature slightly to 55°C (130°F). After another hour, increase to 60°C (140°F). Maintain that temperature until the berries are hard and rattle on the trays.

Preparations for Internal Use

For all these recipes, the commercial Cranberry is as effective as the fruit from the uncultivated plant. Whether you choose to use ready-prepared Cranberry juice, buy the dried fruit, purchase the prepared capsules, or make your own juice, decoction, tincture, or syrup, they will all be beneficial in their own way.

Cranberry drinks

Cranberries make cleansing, tonic, and refreshing drinks. Sweeten the whole juice with a little wild honey or maple syrup, and then drink immediately for maximum nutrition. Try mixing Cranberry juice with this cocktail of other fresh juices: grapefruit, which is rich in vitamins and minerals and strengthens the heart; unpeeled peaches and apricots, which are high in vitamins A and C and minerals; and unpeeled apples, which contain vitamins and minerals and add natural sweetness.

To make a Cranberry drink – standard quantity

  • Use 450 g (1 lb) fresh Cranberries, 1.2 litres (5 cups) spring water and honey to taste.
  • Liquidise the Cranberries, transfer to a pan that is neither copper nor aluminium, cover with the spring water and heat gently for 10–15 minutes.
  • Drain through a cheesecloth for a clear juice or through a stainless steel sieve if you do not mind a little sediment. Add honey to taste.

Tincture

For those who cannot drink large quantities of Cranberry juice, this is a good way to take advantage of all the nutrients in the fruit. You can keep some of the tincture in a small bottle to carry with you.

The fresh or dried fruit is prepared with alcohol: this extracts the vital nutrients, kills germs, and prevents deterioration. It is most important that only perfect fresh fruit or newly bought dried fruit is used. Decaying or stale berries will have lost much of their goodness and therefore make an inferior tincture.

Note: Always use utensils cleaned in boiling water – and for good results add one or two drops of lavender, thyme, or tea tree essential oil to the water.

To make a tincture – standard quantity

  • Use 225 g (8 oz) of dried Cranberries or 310 g (11 oz) of fresh Cranberries, chopped into small pieces, with a total of 1 litre (4 cups) of vodka and water mixture. For the vodka, standard 45 per cent proof is effective, but 70–80 per cent proof is better. Proportions of vodka and water used will depend on the strength of the vodka: if using 45 per cent proof, you will use 80 per cent vodka and 20 per cent water; if using 70–80 per cent proof, you will use 40–50 per cent vodka and 50–60 per cent water. 
  • Put the fresh or dried berries into a liquidiser and cover with the vodka (the correct proportion of 1 litre, as above). Liquidise the ingredients – the mixture may be stiff and hard, but persist.
  • When smooth, pour the mixture into a large dark glass jar with an airtight lid. Shake well, label the jar carefully, and store in a dark place.
  • After 2 days, measure the contents and add the water to make up the rest of the litre of liquid. Shake well.
  • Leave the mixture for at least 2 weeks, but preferably up to 4 weeks. Shake the jar daily to aid the extraction process.
  • At the end of the allotted time, strain the tincture through a jelly bag, preferably overnight, until you have the very last drop. For best results you can use a wine press.
  • Pour the thick, dark red liquid into dark jars and label clearly. Store in a cool, dark place. For personal use, decant into a 50 ml (2 fl oz) tincture bottle.

Recommended dosages:

Everyday use during illness: Take approximately 5 ml (1 tsp) of tincture three times a day, diluted in approximately 50 ml (10 tsp) of water (not fruit juice). It should be noted that practitioners often use double this dose for up to two days during the acute phase of a problem, for example cystitis.

Long-term use: Cranberry tincture can be taken for weeks or months if needed. The adult dose for long-term use is 40 drops 2–3 times a day.

Periodic use: Some people prefer to take Cranberry for a few weeks and then to have a break for a similar period. This routine can help to keep the brain chemicals balanced without needing to take the herb every day. The dosages are the same as for long-term use.

Children/teenagers: Over 16 years, adult dose of 40 drops 2–3 times daily. For use in children under 16, consult a qualified herbalist. 

Decoction

This is a delicious way to enjoy Cranberries and at the same time gain benefit from them. Both dried and fresh fruit are equally effective, but the dried fruit produces a sweeter result. Although not as strong as Cranberry juice, a decoction contains all the same qualities. It may be more suitable than the juice for some conditions and for those who wish to avoid the alcohol contained in tinctures.

To make a decoction – standard quantity

  • Use 20 g (¾ oz) dried Cranberries (pre-soaked overnight if possible), or 40 g (1½ oz) fresh Cranberries, chopped or shredded, to 650 ml (3 cups) cold water.
  • Place the pre-soaked berries in a saucepan with the water (a double boiler is ideal). Bring to a boil, and then simmer for 20–30 minutes. The liquid should reduce by approximately one third. Remove the pan from the heat.
  • Cool the liquid and strain it into a pitcher. If you are going to store the decoction for longer than a day, keep it in the refrigerator in sterilised, dark glass jars.
  • A little sweetening may be needed to soften the tart flavour. Add wild honey or maple syrup to taste; use it when the decoction is almost cool.

Recommended Dosage:

Adults: 500 ml (2 cups) daily.

Children/teenagers: over 12 years, adult dose. For use in children under 12, consult a qualified herbalist. 

Syrup

Cranberry syrup is very palatable and strengthening. Use dried or fresh fruit. Dried berries need to be pre-soaked for 1–2 days.

To make Cranberry syrup – standard quantity

  • Use 1.1 kg (2 ½ lb) of dried Cranberries (pre-soaked), or 2 kg (4½ lb) fresh Cranberries, with enough spring water to cover them. You will also need brandy and vegetable glycerine, in quantities detailed below.
  • Put the berries in a blender, and then add enough spring water to cover them by 2.5 cm (1 in).
  • Process the mixture to break open the berries. Alternatively, crush them with a pestle and mortar. Let the mixture soak for another day.
  • The next day, transfer the mixture to a pan and boil for 2 minutes, then simmer for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and let stand for another 30 minutes.
  • Strain off the liquid, and refrigerate when cool. If necessary, squeeze the juice through a fine but strong cheesecloth bag. A wine press is ideal for this job.
  • Now measure the total volume of the entire simmered and strained berry liquid. Simmer it on a low heat until it reduces to one quarter of the original volume.
  • Measure the mixture again, then add one quarter of its volume in equal amounts of brandy and vegetable glycerine – for example, 1 litre (4 cups) of Cranberry concentrate will need 250 ml (1 cup) total quantity of vegetable glycerine and brandy mixed. Use the best brandy you can afford.
  • Pour the syrup into sterilised, dark bottles and refrigerate. It will keep indefinitely.

Recommended Dosage:

Adults: 90–180 ml (6–12 tbsp) a day.

Children/teenagers: Over 12 years, adult dose. For use in children under 12, consult a qualified herbalist. 

Cranberry, apple & thyme tea (infusion)

This is one of the most delicious and refreshing teas, and an invigorating tonic excellent for convalescents. Although the amount of nutrients extracted from the fruits is not as high as in other preparations, there are enough trace elements present in the tea to have a beneficial effect and promote vitality.

To make an infusion – standard quality

  • 2 g (1 tsp) chopped dried Cranberries
  • 2 g (1 tsp) dried apple, flaked
  • 250 ml (1 cup) boiling water
  • ¼ tsp dried thyme leaves
  • Honey or xylitol to taste (optional)
  • Put the Cranberries, apple and thyme in a tea sock and place it in a cup or teapot. Pour on the boiling water and let it stand for 7 minutes.
  • Remove the tea sock and, if desired, add half a teaspoon of organic wild honey or xylitol to the tea (although teas are usually best without added sweeteners).

Recommended Dosage:

The infusion may be drunk freely by all age groups.

Cranberry & apple crumble

One of the best ways to encourage every member of the family to eat Cranberries is to include them in this popular dessert. The flavour is unique, both sweet and sharp, and utterly delicious.

To make a nourishing, tasty crumble – serves 4 people

  • 6 large cooking apples, peeled, cored, and cut into thick slices
  • Enough water to cover the apples
  • 85 g (3 oz) of dried Cranberries, chopped
  • Clear honey
  • 50 g (3 tbsp) coconut butter (coconut oil)
  • 75 g (½ cup) mixed almond flour and chestnut flour
  • 75 g (1 cup) porridge oats
  • Xylitol – enough to desired sweetness
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Put the apples in a pan with enough water to cover, and cook until they are just soft but not pulpy. Remove from the heat and add the Cranberries, cover, and let stand for ten minutes.
  • Drain the juice from the apples and mix it with the minimum of honey to sweeten.
  • Put the remaining apple and Cranberry mixture into a 20 cm (8 in) lightly greased, ovenproof dish and pour in enough juice to cover the fruit.
  • Rub the coconut butter into the flour mixture and then add the oats and some of the xylitol. Sprinkle the crumble mixture over the fruit and top up with a little more xylitol if you wish.
  • Bake for 20–25 minutes until the crumble is well-browned. Serve hot.

Preparations for External Use

Cranberry poultice 

Cranberry is valued mainly for its effects on the internal organs, but it is also a great healer of the skin. Many ancient remedies used infusions of the leaf to heal skin irritation, but the berries were also used to heal persistent skin eruptions caused by chickenpox, pruritus, psoriasis, dermatitis, and shingles.

To make a poultice – standard quantity

  • Use 85 g (3 oz) fresh Cranberries and 50 ml (2 fl oz) natural yoghurt – or 10ml (2 tsp) Slippery Elm powder combined with 30–60 ml (2–4 tbsp) olive oil.
  • Take the fresh berries, scald them in boiling water and dry on a paper towel.
  • Put in a blender with the natural yoghurt and liquidise to make a stiff paste. Alternatively, use Slippery Elm powder mixed with olive oil to create a firmer, more adhering poultice. You may need to add more olive oil to enable the blender blades to turn easily.
  • Use the mixture immediately.
  • Wash the affected area with warm water.
  • Put the mixture onto a poultice (a large plaster or piece of thin gauze) and press onto the affected area. Secure it in place with a clean cloth or plastic wrap.
  • Leave for 20–60 minutes and wash off with warm water.
  • Apply a gentle ointment such as Calendula or Aloe Vera to speed healing and reduce scarring,

Vaginal douche

To make a vaginal douche – standard quantity

  • 20 g (¾ oz) dried Cranberries or 40 g (1½ oz) fresh Cranberries, chopped.
  • 750 ml (3 cups) cold water, which will reduce to about 500 ml (2 cups) after simmering.
  • 60 ml (4 tbsp) organic apple cider vinegar.
  • Liquidise the Cranberries in a blender (with some of the water if using dried fruits), then transfer to a pan (a double boiler is ideal).
  • Add the water. Bring to the boil, and then simmer on a low heat for 20–30 minutes.
  • The liquid should reduce by about one third. Remove from the heat.
  • Let the liquid cool and then strain it into a pitcher. Add the organic apple cider vinegar.

Recommended use:

Use as normal for a douche. If you are unclear about this, follow the instructions that come with a commercial douche kit. Douche kits are available from some health food stores and pharmacies, and by mail order.

Case study: cystitis

When Donna visited her medical practitioner not long after she was married and said she was suffering from cystitis, he joked that she was suffering from the ‘honeymoon illness’. Understandably she was a little disconcerted until he explained to her that increased sexual activity, hormonal fluctuation, and birth control pills can all create the conditions in which cystitis may occur. As she was unwilling to take the prescription he suggested, he discussed with her a more holistic approach that included drinking 300 ml (10 fl oz) of Cranberry juice daily until the condition cleared, and thereafter to make it a regular part of a balanced diet that included plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, and water, and less or no coffee and processed food.

Natural Medicine for Everyone

Cranberry has worked for centuries to bring health and vitality to those who have depended upon it. Full of natural goodness, it can be used in a variety of ways, allowing all members of the family to enjoy and benefit from it.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding

Best used during pregnancy as a food, Cranberries may be added to cereals, fruit or other salads, or mixed in fruit cocktails. Their high vitamin C content makes them helpful for maintaining good health during this time, especially in the cold winter months or during exposure to illness. A drink of Cranberry juice several times a week in small quantities or a few dried Cranberries will protect also against constipation as well as diarrhoea. However, do not overdo it, because as with most fruit, over-indulgence can actually lead to stomach ache and diarrhoea. Cranberries in moderation and as part of a healthy diet will ensure strength and vitality for both mother and child. 

Pregnant women are usually advised not to take antibiotics, so Cranberry juice can be a good alternative for bladder infections and cystitis. However, during pregnancy and breastfeeding it is essential to take professional advice from your doctor or a qualified herbalist before using Cranberry juice in higher amounts (or using tinctures, capsules, decoctions etc.).

Children

Cranberries are a particularly good food for children because they help to encourage strong and healthy growth of bone and muscle, promote good skin and reduce the risk of infection. They also minimise the effects of many of the ailments associated with childhood and, most particularly, build resistance to the ever-present winter colds whose breeding ground is the school bus, classroom and swimming pool. Cranberry drinks can be made palatable and colourful enough to vie in popularity with bottled 'pop' and other fruit juices, while dried Cranberries are sweet and a deliciously tempting alternative to sweets. 

Seek advice from a qualified herbalist if you wish to use a tincture for children under 16, or if you wish to use a syrup or decoction for children under 12. 

Elderly people

Many elderly people suffer from urinary problems and a small glass of Cranberry juice every day can be essential to relieve symptoms and restore health when they occur.

The Cranberry fruit will also improve an elderly person's general state of health and build immunity against colds and flu. When it is not possible to exercise very often, Cranberry can relieve toxicity, constipation and lethargy, which leads to a stronger sense of well-being.

Herbal Combinations

Herbal combinations are used to complement the effect of a single herb. However, if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, have a serious medical condition or are taking medication, you should consult your doctor or a qualified herbalist before trying these combinations.

Herbal treatments often contain one main ingredient, with others added to produce a healing ‘rainbow effect'. The main herb may be required to soothe impaired tissue, for example, with the others there to nourish, to help eliminate toxins, and to assist in nerve and blood supply. Some formulas have equal quantities of four or five herbs, their similar actions working in slightly different ways.

Cystitis

Made up as a tincture, this combination of herbs makes a complete formula for treating Cystitis.

Formula: Equal parts of Thyme leaf, Uva Ursi leaves, Cranberries, Corn Silk, Marshmallow root.

Recommended Dosage:

Adults: 5 ml (1 tsp) three times daily for the duration of acute symptoms and for a further seven days after symptoms have subsided.

Children/teenagers: Over 16 years, adult dose. For use in children under 16, consult a qualified herbalist.

Thyme leaf is a general antiviral, anti-parasitic, antibacterial, and anti-fungal herb. So, whatever the cause of the microbial imbalance of cystitis, this herb's array of essential oils can kill and prevent bacteria from multiplying. Uva Ursi is a powerful diuretic, renowned for its use against cystitis because of its dual ability to tighten inflamed tissue and reduce infection. Cranberry’s antibacterial, tannin-rich, and anti-inflammatory qualities will reduce tissue inflammation and help clear infection. Corn Silk is very soothing for the pain and irritation of cystitis, as well as being a premier diuretic, thereby allowing water and toxins to be released. Marshmallow lends a strong demulcent (soothing) element to this formula, which is vital to counter the heat, irritation, and pain of cystitis.

Diarrhoea

This herbal combination, taken as a drink, is simple and yet very effective for the kind of digestive upset where diarrhoea is involved – whether caused by bacteria, fungi, or viruses.

Formula: 3 parts Cranberry juice, 1 part organic Aloe Vera juice.

Recommended Dosage:

Adults: 250 ml (1 cup) three times daily during acute phase and 250 ml (1 cup) once daily after the symptoms have subsided.

Children/teenagers: Over 12 years, adult dose. For use in children under 12, consult a qualified herbalist.

Cranberry is a powerful treatment for diarrhoea, as already mentioned. Aloe Vera leaf juice can be bought commercially – look for one that is organic and with a minimum of preservatives. The Aloe Vera plant is renowned for its effectiveness in treating any form of digestive upset that results in diarrhoea.

Digestion

This combination of herbs for the digestive system is best taken as a tincture. The taste in the mouth is vital to instigate the first process of digestion – saliva production. The taste will be stimulating, slightly hot, and sweet.

Formula: Equal parts of Cranberries, Fennel seeds, Gentian roots, Ginger roots, and ½ part of Peppermint leaves.

Recommended Dosage:

Adults: 5 ml (1 tsp) six times daily, before and after meals.

Children/teenagers: Over 16 years, adult dose. For use in children under 16, consult a qualified herbalist.

Cranberry helps the digestive process. Fennel is antispasmodic and treats wind, colic, and irritable bowels. Gentian root stimulates saliva production and gastric juice secretions. Ginger reduces nausea, and Peppermint disperses indigestion. Taken before meals, this formula rallies all the digestive processes from the pancreas to the liver, and stimulates their function. Digestive enzymes will be secreted in a more balanced way ensuring that food is processed effectively and completely, and that undigested food does not linger, causing allergic responses and illness.

Prostate infection

Problems with the prostate gland tend to affect men over the age of fifty. This combination of juice and tincture is very easy to administer and the results can be very effective. Simply add Saw Palmetto and Echinacea tinctures to Cranberry juice.

Formula: 250 ml (1cup) Cranberry juice, 10 ml (2 tsp) Saw Palmetto tincture, 5 ml (1 tsp) Echinacea tincture.

Recommended Dosage:

Adults: Consume the above quantity three to four times daily during the acute phase and then, after infection appears to have cleared up, reduce to twice daily for another week.

Cranberry’s astringent and antimicrobial qualities can soothe and clear the infection rapidly. Saw Palmetto berries are renowned for their ability to normalise the prostate and alleviate symptoms such as inflammation and pain. Echinacea will boost and modulate the immune system to deal with the infection.

Skin-clearing formula

The skin responds well to this tincture. It can help to clear a variety of skin conditions, from psoriasis to heat rashes.

Formula: Equal parts of Cranberries, Barberry root bark, Cleavers herb (aerial parts), Birch leaves and ½ part Burdock root.

Recommended Dosage:

Adults: 5 ml (1 tsp) three times daily.

Children/teenagers: Over 16 years, adult dose. For use in children under 16, consult a qualified herbalist.

The high antioxidant and antibacterial content of Cranberries gives this tincture a powerful basis for clearing the skin. Barberry root bark contains strong antibacterial constituents and also effectively stimulates bile secretion, the lack of which is at the base of many skin problems. Cleavers herb is cooling to very hot and inflamed skin conditions. It is strongly diuretic and able to assist in detoxifying the skin. Burdock is a major cleanser for chronic skin problems because it can assist the removal of waste products that accumulate in the skin. It is also a powerful natural antibiotic. The Birch leaves will ensure that the kidneys work effectively to remove all the dead bacteria and toxins from the body. They are also ‘antibiotic’ in their own right.

Winter chills

The overall effect of this tincture is tasty, sweetly sour, and very soothing. It is ideal for chills, coughs, and colds.

Formula: Equal parts of Elderberries, Cranberries, Thyme leaf, Pine needles.

Recommended Dosage:

Adults: 10 ml (2 tsp) three times daily during acute stage, then 5 ml (1 tsp) three times daily for 4 days after symptoms have subsided.

Children/teenagers: Over 16 years, adult dose. For use in children under 16, consult a qualified herbalist.

Elderberries are renowned for their antiviral properties, vitamin C, and flavonoid-rich components, which are used extensively to treat flu, coughs, and colds. Cranberries complement Elderberries and have a similar action in this formula. Thyme’s extremely powerful antimicrobial essential oils quickly disarm a wide range of bacterial and other microbial overgrowth especially in the lungs and throat. Pine needles are a very powerful antioxidant and are renowned as a wide-ranging antimicrobial rich in volatile essential oils, which help to reduce excessive phlegm, relieve coughs, and improve impaired breathing.

How Cranberry Works

Wild Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccus) was traditionally used in the past by herbalists. It is the more robust Vaccinium macrocarpon species that is now used extensively in research into the healing properties of Cranberry. The key chemical constituents of the fruit of the Vaccinium oxycoccus and macrocarpon species are very similar, but they are present in the berries in different ratios.

  • Under normal conditions the urine in the bladder is sterile but when harmful microorganisms, particularly E. coli, proliferate in the bladder, prostate or kidneys then a condition exists that is known as a urinary tract infection. The high level of concentrated tannins (proanthocyanidins) present in Cranberry juice creates a hostile environment that prevents the adherence of bacteria to mucosal surfaces in the urinary tract. Cranberry juice has also been shown to relieve vaginitis and irritable bladder conditions.
  • Cranberries contain a high level of vitamin C, which not only ensures the formation of healthy collagen, skin, bones and muscle, but also encourages normal body cell functioning and supports the body's use of other nutrients, such as iron, vitamins A and B, calcium and certain amino acids. By promoting the formation of strong connective tissue, vitamin C increases the healing potential of wounds and burns. It also acts as an antioxidant to protect the body from free radical damage. Vitamin C and pectin reduces infection in skin eruptions and irritations whilst helping to maintain a clean and dry environment, thus ensuring scar-free healing.
  • Pectin in Cranberries also removes heavy metals, environment toxins, radioactivity, bacteria and infection from the body.
  • Vitamin A improves vision and ensures healthy mucous membranes of the urinary, respiratory and digestive tracts.
  • Cranberries also contain the minerals calcium, copper, phosphorus, magnesium and iron, which enrich and purify the blood.
  • Cranberries contain the flavonoids quercetin, myricetin and kaempferol, which can help to protect blood vessels from damage and quench free radicals.

Research

For many years, doctors were sceptical of the old wives' tale that Cranberry juice is very effective in treating urinary tract infections. Some research had been undertaken in 1914, but it was inconclusive. Research continued for the next 80 years, most of which, yet again, proved inconclusive.

Recently, however, research by Howell and others has moved away from the belief that acidification of the urine was the mechanism through which Cranberry juice produced a bacteriostatic effect. It has revealed instead that 'proanthocyanidins are the key to the effectiveness of Cranberry in the treatment of urinary tract infections'.

As mentioned earlier, proanthocyanidins stop bacteria such as E. coli from adhering to mucosal surfaces in the gut and the bladder. The result is a bacteriostatic effect, whereby the bacteria are not destroyed but do not multiply. In other words, when bacteria are prevented from sticking to the surfaces of the gut or bladder, they cannot proliferate and cause further damage.

Placebo controlled studies of urinary tract infections in the United States have, since 1994, produced fairly conclusive results. One study found that of those women who drank 300 ml (10fl oz) of a Cranberry juice cocktail for six months, 60 per cent were less likely to develop infections than those who drank a placebo. Among those who already had an infection, 75 per cent were more likely to have the infection clear up.

The key to many of the healing properties of Cranberries are the flavonoids, which inhibit damage from free radicals, those harmful molecules that can lead to many serious health problems including artery disease, heart disease and cancer. Cranberry's flavonoids include quercetin, myricetin and kaempferol, and it is now considered that the antioxidant properties of quercetin in particular help to protect the lining of blood vessels from damage, thereby preventing the onset of diseases of the arteries. Investigation is now underway into the possibility that these compounds may prevent genetic changes that lead to cancer.

Recent research undertaken by Gary D. Stoner of the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center has shown that ellagic acid, an antioxidant compound, is present in many soft fruits including Cranberries. Ellagic acid has been shown to inhibit carcinogenic agents and to hinder the growth of tumours. Not only is it powerful enough to help prevent cells that have been exposed to carcinogens from becoming cancerous, but further research has shown that it may also help to prevent mutations in DNA.

Glossary

Aerial parts

Those parts of the plant that grow above the ground – stems, leaves and flowers.

Amino acid

Building blocks of protein essential for growth and body maintenance.

Antibacterial

Destroys bacteria, or arrests bacterial growth and reproduction.

Anti-inflammatory

Reduces inflammation.

Antimicrobial

Destroys or inhibits the growth of harmful microorganisms, which may include bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites.

Antioxidant

A substance that delays or prevents oxidation, which is a normal part of energy production in cells, but which produces potentially harmful free radicals.

Antiscorbutic

Cures or prevents scurvy.

Antispasmodic

A substance that limits, corrects and prevents excessive involuntary muscular contractions.

Astringent

In medical terms, this means a substance that draws together or constricts tissue and acts as a contracting or styptic agent. In cosmetic terms, it means an agent that firms and tones the skin. In the context of taste, it is sharp and acidic.

Bacteriostatic

Stops bacteria from multiplying, but does not destroy them.

Candida

A genus of yeasts that inhabit the vagina and alimentary tract and can, under certain conditions, cause a yeast infection.

Collagen

An insoluble protein, it is the principal fibrous component of connective tissue in the body.

Diuretic

A substance that increases the volume of urine, and hence the frequency of urination.

Flavonoids

Compounds found in plants responsible for a wide range of actions. They can be anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anti-carcinogenic, and antioxidant.

Free radicals

Highly reactive particles that damage cell membranes, DNA, and other cellular structures.

Genitourinary system

This encompasses all the organs and systems connected to the reproductive and urinary systems.

Hypoglycaemia

A deficiency of glucose in the bloodstream, causing muscular weakness and mental confusion.

Immunity

Capacity and function of the body to fend off foreign bodies, such as fungi, viruses, and bacteria, and/or disarm and eject them.

Pathogens

Unfriendly microorganisms, such as harmful bacteria, that produce disease.

Pectin

Soluble gum-like carbohydrate formed in fruits from pectose by ripening or heating.

Proanthocyanidins

Biologically active substances found in plants that stop harmful bacteria from adhering to mucosal surfaces in the bladder or gut.

Prostate gland

A male sex gland that opens into the urethra just below the bladder. During ejaculation it secretes an alkaline fluid that forms part of semen. The prostate may become enlarged in older men.

Psoriasis

A chronic skin disease in which scaly pink patches form primarily on the scalp, knees and elbows, but also on other parts of the body.

Tannins

Organic substances obtained from plant material that have astringent properties.

UTI

Urinary tract infection, resulting from the proliferation of harmful microorganisms in the bladder, prostate or kidneys.


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