Other names: bog, cranberry, true cranberry, swamp cranberry, moss cranberry
Heath Family: Ericaceae
Physical Description: Cranberry: Oxycoccus species: a: plants are low and trail through moss. Though only 2 to 4 inches high, the stems may be amazingly long; b: berries are plump, red, many–seeded; c: leaves are dark green above and lighter below. Leaf edges are rolled under slightly; d: flowers are small and pink, they look somewhat like a 4-petaled shooting star; e: stems are fine and threadlike, often hidden in moss. Stems are smooth for Oxycoccus microcarpus, pubescent for Oxycoccus palustris.
Habitat and Range: Oxycoccus microcarpus, also know as Vaccinium oxycoccus and Oxycoccus palustris inhabits bogs from Alaska and the Yukon to Oregon.
Oxycoccus: Common Cranberry with Uncommonly Good Flavor: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” and wild cranberry “by any name” would taste as tart. Cranberry is but another plant whose ‘proper names’ is a matter of debate. Generally the botanical handle eliminates the nonsense and defines precisely which plant is being talked about, but in this case, even the scientific name is argued. Hulten, whose Flora of Alaska and Neighboring Territories classifies the plant as Oxycoccus. Other experts insist it belongs the Vecciniums, the genus that includes blueberries, huckleberries, and lingonberries. Characteristic of the Vacciniums, though, are bell-like flowers and shrubby growth. The cranberry in question is a tiny thread-stemmed creeper with flowers reminiscent of shooting stars. It also has very sour berries; translated into Latin ‘sour berries’ becomes Oxycoccus. Call this plant what you will, just don’t bypass its tangy bog delights.
Harvest Calendar: Autumn, after the first frost: berries. The fruits persist on the stems throughout the winter and can be gathered even into spring. Sometimes the spring berries ferment, making birds that feast too heavily a bit tipsy.
MEDICINAL USE: Yukon River residents recommend eating cranberries and drinking cranberry juice for colds and for bleeding gums. In Kuuvanmiit Subsistence, it is reported that Inupiat feed cranberries in seal oil to those with poor appetite or gall bladder problems. Cranberry juice is used as a rinse for cystitis, and as a drink for urinary tract infections. One to two teaspoons of concentrated cranberry pulp, diluted in a cup of water, can be sipped by asthmatics to help overcome an attack.
Cosmetic Use: The Handbook of Natural Beauty says cranberries contain acids that bleach the skin and removed a faded tan. Juice is rubbed on the skin at bedtime and rinsed off in the morning. Apply a moisturizer after each treatment.
Historical Use: “Craneberries” is the name early New Englanders gave to Oxycoccus fruits due to the resemblance of the blossoms and stems to the neck and face of a crane. Eventually the name shortened to ‘cranberries.’ Various Indian tribes used cranberries as food, gathering them green and storing them in damp moss. Fruits were also used as a means of barter.
Other: Besides providing food for birds, bears, and humans, the cranberry is a good source of red dye. The plant is a very ancient one; argon dating has substantiated that this delicate bog plant has been in existence for several million years. It’s likely to exist long after the current controversy over it’s proper name.
Cited from: Discovering Wild Plants–Alaska, Western Canada, the Northwest. Written By Janice J. Schofield, Illustrated by Richard W. Tyler. Published by: Alaska Northwest Books, 1989.