You can consider this an ode to the joys and wonders of the much misunderstood Northern low bush cranberry.

Let’s start with its name. It is not a cranberry and is no more related to cranberries than raspberries, blueberries, or cloudberries. Despite this, it is often referred to as Northern, moss, bush, swamp, bog or even small cranberries. It has a number of other names: partridge berries, foxberries, mountain bilberries, red whortleberries, beaver berries, cougar berries, fall berries and little round red berries, to name but a few. In Eurasia, it is called the cow berry, because apparently cows eat them there. In northern Europe, particularly in the Scandinavian counties, it is called the lingonberry. Its official name is vaccinium vitas-idaea – that’s a quite a mouth-full.

This berry seems to have more names than the GNWT has civil servants. So, the first thing we should do is pick a single good Northern Canadian name for these wondrous berries. They tend to be more tart and flavourful than cranberries, so maybe we could call them tartelicious berries. Although that is a little too gimmicky for me.

 

I like picking them in the fall, I enjoy eating them and always try to have some in the freezer for cooking. You can add them to cereal, pancakes, muffins, bannock, soups or stews. You can make a sauce out of them or add a little sugar and make jam because they are high in pectin. They should be a mainstay of Northern and Canadian cuisine.

Bears eat them, so do foxes and I assume most mammals plus a lot of birds. So, they are an important part of our ecosystem. They also grow in wet acidic soils that don’t have a lot of nutrients. In the North, anything that can grow in our soil deserves the name miracle plant.

They are also a great soil cover and help prevent erosion. Someone should calculate the number of berries per square kilometre of land and extrapolate that for the entire county. We probably produce tens of thousands, if not a million tons of lingonberries a year, naturally.

Now, I am not sure I really want to get into this, but some scientists in Canada who have been studying them think they could become the next super berry. They are high in antioxidants, omega three, vitamin C, fibre and low in sugar. So, picking them and eating them helps prevent cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Some would say that they are good for the mind, body and soul.

Newfoundland and Labrador produce about 90,000 kilograms of them commercially every year. Other places harvest them from the wild and sell them. So, they are a good candidate for Northern farming, harvesting and economic development. A community could take an area of land, groom the bush to encourage growth and then harvest them in the fall as a commercial operation.

So here we have a berry that grows in abundance all over the North. One that people have been picking and eating since people first arrived in the North. A berry that is good for people’s health. A mainstay of the North’s ecology and environment. So why aren’t they better known and celebrated? Why aren’t they for sale in Northern stores? Why aren’t there cookbooks dedicated to their use? Why isn’t the hospital giving patients berry smoothies?

Last winter at the dump, I found three large Ziploc bags full of berries that someone had tossed out, probably because they were leaving town. Wow.

I checked on Amazon and 10 berries, as seeds, sell of $6.99. That’s 69 cents per berry. Also, three pounds of frozen berries sells for $45. Again, I say wow. I had found more than $100 worth of berries, already picked, cleaned and frozen, just sitting in our dump. Amazing.