The Today show featured a short segment on cranberries and bogs. The announcer really wanted the cranberry grower to explain how the whole bog thing works, but all he could do was point out some short bushes with little red berries. Left hanging on the vine was the question of how one goes from there to the picturesque water filled bogs. I wondered the same thing myself, so here's what I found out about cranberries. They're really interesting berries. (I still don't think they taste particularly good!). The berries are harvested by flooding the field they're grown in (a bog that has peaty, acidic soil) and then agitating the water with this device to loosen the berries. The floating berries are then sluiced from the surface.
Cranberries are native to New England and grow well in acidic soil (just like azaleas & rhododendrons). The name is probably a variation on the colonial "crane berry" so named because the flowers resemble the sand cranes that could be seen eating them. The Ocean Spray company produces 90% of the world's supply, grown in northern climates (MA, WA, OR, BC) only because milder climates create problems with fungus.
Cranberries are also well known for promoting urinary tract health. And, it's not all hype. In 2002, JAMA reported a study that suggests persistent urinary tract infections that are resistant to antibiotics could be prevented by drinking cranberry juice. The researchers found that cranberry juice prevents 80% of bacteria from attaching to the cells of the urinary tract. These anti-adhesion effects have been isolated to compounds called proanthocyanidins - yep, a cyanide relative. Cranberry juice is a real, viable alternative to participating in the evolution of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
Speaking of that, recently my Newfie puppy had to visit the vet for what they labeled a bladder infection. They allegedly did a test that showed she did have an infection, and of course, sent us home with antibiotic pills. She still dribbles. So, now I'm thinking it wouldn't hurt to put her on a cranberry juice routine. She may not like the tart treat as much as she enjoyed that peanut butter pills, but maybe it would be a good long-term solution.
The Cranberry Institute reports that the bacteria that cause periodontal gum disease are also sensitive to cranberry juice. That seems like good reason enough to drink the stuff, but did you know that blueberries are just as good?
Blueberries, in addition to having the anti-adhesion properties of cranberries, also have anti-proliferation capacity. They prevent cancer cells from replicating. Cool.
And, blueberries taste much better!
The Rutgers Blueberry and Cranberry Research Center is working to breed berries that have higher concentrations of medicinal properties.