Wellness Encyclopedia: Cranberries

A mouth-puckering explosion of flavor that brings with it a wealth of nutrition that’s beneficial internally and out…

I consider myself very lucky to have grown up under the care of a mother in tune with the gifts provided by nature. This is a woman who knows her mushrooms — once calling to brag about finding a 25 lb hen of the woods (admittedly a feat worth bragging about) — she knows her wild apples, and edible weeds and, of course, cranberries. These treasures all grow wild in the area surrounding her house, including the cranberries, which inhabit a bog not far away, and weekends at home often involve searching out whatever happens to be in season. Crabapples in late spring, asparagus in summer, apples and cranberries come fall, and mushrooms every season but the snowiest. With the holidays drawing near, the wild crafted jams, jellies and preserves created using these natural gifts will make their reappearance on the table, presented with pride and the knowledge their ingredients were all provided, free of charge, by allowing our natural habitat to be as wild as it wants to be. A gift to be thankful for.

While the apples, mushrooms and asparagus were always intriguing, it was the cranberries that beguiled me — still do. New Englanders are used to seeing their cranberries grown on ‘The Cape’ (Cape Cod), and if you’ve ever seen a commercial for a certain kind of juice, you’ve likely seen their flooded fields topped with a crimson layer of berries. Understandably, they’re a crop difficult to picture growing wild, but wild they do indeed grow, on low-hanging bushes in marshy, boggy areas. Boasting a mouth-puckering explosion of flavor that brings with it a wealth of nutrition that’s beneficial internally and out, a far cry from the ubiquitous tubular brick of sweetened sauce present on many Thanksgiving tables. These ruby red gems will be making their holiday debut this week, so today I’m shining the spotlight on the health benefits of cranberries.

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What are they? Grown on low-hanging shrubs or vines, cranberry is in the evergreen family and refers to the plant as well as the bright red berry itself. Related to blueberries and bilberries, cranberries are most often used fresh, dried, or made into juice but are also a key ingredient in many beauty products and even pet food.

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What are the benefits? Brimming with vitamin C and fibre, it’s easy to see those benefits and stop there. But cranberries have so much more to offer! Famously known for their ability to prevent and treat urinary tract infections, it was thought until recently that their effectiveness was due in part to the acidity of the berries (when eaten raw their sweetness is almost entirely overpowered by acidity). However, scientists have found that their effectiveness is due to proanthocyanidins, a class of polyphenols, which prevent bacteria from clinging to the lining of the urinary tract (these same proanthocyanidins also prevent tooth decay by inhibiting bacteria growth in the mouth!). These same polyphenols and others present in cranberries have also been shown to boost cardiovascular health, decrease inflammation and boost digestion. The high levels of antioxidants, coupled with collagen-boosting vitamin C, means cranberries offer anti-aging benefits too, even more reason to add them to your routine!

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How do I use them? While cranberries may seem plentiful and easy to add to your health routine, be wary of added sugars. Because the berries themselves are so acidic, it can take a lot to make them taste sweet. Look for dried varieties with no added sugar to add to salads and other recipes, or make your own sauce (try our recipe here). Cranberries are also amazing for skin and hair. Supplements are available and many skin products are formulated with cranberries, but it you have oily skin, try the recipe below for a nourishing face mask you can whip up in minutes.

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Cranberry-Yogurt Face Mask

Ingredients:

¼ cup fresh cranberries

½ cup yogurt

1 tsp honey

Pulse the cranberries in a blender or food processor and mix together with the yogurt and honey and a small bowl.

To use: Apply to your clean, dry face and allow to sit for 10-15 minutes. Rinse with a warm washcloth and pat face dry before applying moisturizer.

*As with all homemade beauty recipes, I recommend testing a small amount of product on the inside of your arm before applying to your face.

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