Cranberries (Vaccinium oxycoccus, V. macrocarpon) are members of the Ericaceae (Heath) Family and a relative of blueberries. The genus name, vaccinium is from the Latin vaca, meaning, "cow" as they enjoy this plant. Also known as marshwort, and fenne berry, it still grows wild in North America. The word cranberry is named after the cranes that feed upon them, as well as their slender curved stalks that resemble a crane's neck.
They were a popular food with Native Americans who included them in pemmican and game dishes, as well as medicinally to treat blood poisoning. They are believed to be native to the bogs of both Europe and North America.
Cranberry is acidic, sour, cool, and considered an antiscorbutic (prevents scurvy), bronchodilator, urinary antiseptic, antifungal, antiviral, and vasodilator. Cranberry inhibits the adhesion of bacteria (often E. coli) to the urinary tract, perhaps due to a polymer contained in the plant.
They have been used to treat asthma, burning urine, cancer, cystitis, diabetes, fever, hemorrhoids, kidney stones, poor appetite, skin disorders, and urinary tract infections. They contain vitamin C, bioflavonoids (anthocyanins), ellagic acid and fiber. It is believed that their high flavonoid content is beneficial for in the formation of visual purple, a pigment in the eyes, essential in night vision. They also contain tannic and oxalic acids, which if overused can contribute to the formation of kidney stones, and inhibit the absorption of calcium. Thus, they should thus be used in moderation.
Look for plump, bright red, shiny hard berries. Avoid those that are soft, leaky or shriveled. Good berries actually tend to bounce. They store for up to a couple of months in the refrigerator. The benzoic acid in the berries works as a natural preservative. Commercial berries are frequently treated with growth hormones, though not usually with insecticides.
Berries are tart, can be sweetened with honey or dates, and eaten in jams, relishes, sauces, breads, cakes, juice, and added to stuffing, juice. Dried cranberries can be used in place of raisins.