The first cultivated cranberries were selected from the wild. They often have names that describe the berry. For instance, Early Blacks and Early Reds get their name for their color and habit of early maturation. Good thing, because it makes them easily available for Thanksgiving. Howes were once grown and selected by Elias Howe of East Dennis, Ma. in 1843 and planted by many other growers from cuttings purchased from Mr. Howe’s bog. An early native selection in Nova Scotia is the Beaver and New Jersey has Jerseys and Late Jerseys. Since the 1920’s there has been an ongoing breeding program designed to develop new cultivars with objectives such as increased productivity, larger size, better color, resistance to disease and tolerance of storage. In short, a better cranberry.
The Cranberry over time
Years later there are well over a hundred different cultivars of the cranberry. Their origins are either from the wild or results of experimental production of hybrids. In addition, they have evocative names such as Aviator, Bugle, Black Vail and Metallic Bell. Some have the names of places where they were born, such as Middleboro, Middlesex, and Rhode Island. Many more bear the name of their discoverers or growers. After years of experience only a few cranberry cultivars have remained popular. The older east coast natives include Early Blacks, Howes, McFarlands and Early Reds and the newer hybrids, which have developed a more prolific vine and a larger hardier berry. These are mainly Ben Lears, Pilgrims, Stevens and Bergmans.
Those new large berries are often used for juice and other cranberry products. That’s why consumers are usually not familiar with their names. Most of the cranberries we buy fresh in the store to cook with the Thanksgiving turkey are the native east coast berries. Usually Early Blacks and Howes. They are small, pretty and very tasty. We grow them because we think they make the best cranberry sauce and because they have always grown here. This is their native habitat and they are hardy survivors both on the bog and in the package.
The Health Benefits of Cranberries
Until recently, the well known health benefits of cranberries were thought to be due to the high vitamin C content of the fruit. But now scientists have isolated other compounds present in cranberries which have the special effect of preventing bacteria from adhering to the urinary tract. These compounds, condensed tannis or proanthocyanidins, may be effective in preventing or easing urinary tract infections by preventing Escherichia coli (E. coli bacteria) from adhering to the kidney or bladder cells.1
Cranberry is also good for your oral health. The products, like juice you buy at the store doesn’t count since it has so much added sugar. But pure cranberries kill bad bacteria in your mouth. That means a lower risk of gingivitis and other oral health problems.2
Ongoing research is also finding that they can reduce your risk of heart disease and even cancer.3 The phytocchemicals (mentioned above) are also very strong antioxidants. These neutralize free radicals, natural (and unnatural) toxins found in your bodies. Free radicals cause damage to tissues and cells and can lead to oxidative stress, which is the cause of many diseases.