American Cranberry

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American Cranberry

American Cranberry Quick Facts
Name: American Cranberry
Scientific Name: Viburnum trilobum
Origin Northern North America, from Newfoundland west to British Columbia, south to Washington state and east to northern Virginia
Colors Bright red at maturity
Shapes One-seeded berry-like (a drupe), oblong, globose, bright red, 15 mm (0.59 in) long and 12 mm (0.47 in) broad
Taste Tart, acidic and astringent
Health benefits Beneficial for menstrual and stomach cramps, asthma, fallen womb after birth, urinary tract infections, kidney stones
American Cranberry scientifically known as Viburnum trilobum is a species of Viburnum native to northern North America, from Newfoundland west to British Columbia, south to Washington state and east to northern Virginia. The plant is very closely related to the European and Asian Viburnum opulus, and is often treated as a variety of it, as Viburnum opulus L. var. americanum Ait, or as a subspecies, Viburnum opulus subsp. trilobum Clausen. Few of the popular common names of the plant are American Cranberrybush, Crampbark Tree, Gueldres-Rose, Dog Rowan Tree, Highbush Cranberry, Cranberrybush, American Cranberrybush Viburnum, cranberry tree, crampbark tree, guelder-rose, wild gueldes-rose, gueldres-rose, cherry-wood, rose elder, red elder, marsh elder, water elder, white elder, gadrise, gaiter tree, gatten, love rose, May rose, pincushion tree, dog rowan tree, whitten tree, squaw bush, witch-hobble, witchhopple, Pimbina, Mooseberry, Cranberry Tree and Squashberry.

American cranberries are members of the Viburnum genus, and are not a “true” cranberry. They are part of the Caprifoliaceae or honeysuckle family and were named for their similarity to the commercially marketed cranberry. They have a similar flavor and ripen at the same time of year. The fruit is sour and rich in vitamin C can be eaten raw or cooked into a sauce to serve with meat or game. Sometimes they are referred to as American Highbush cranberries or Cranberry viburnum. There are three different species of Highbush cranberry: the American, Viburnum trilobum, the European, V. opulus, and a hybrid of the two, V. opulus var. americana. The American variety is said to have a much better flavor and palatability than the European variety. American cranberries are most often found in the wild and are a favorite of birds like the cedar waxwing.

Plant description

American cranberries are hardy, deciduous, spring-flowering North American shrub that grows about 12 feet (4 m) tall. The plant is found growing in cool moist woodlands, stream banks in wooded areas, sandy swamps, and soggy thickets, edges of sandy marshes, forested bogs, and roadside ditches. American Cranberry Bush is occasionally cultivated as an ornamental landscape plant. The plant is adaptable to a variety of soil and acidity, but it does best in consistently moist but well-drained soil. The plant has woody and branching roots and gray, rough bark with scaly texture that smells skunky when scratched.


Pair of opposite leaves occur along the shoots and twigs. Individual leaves are 2-4 inch long and nearly as much across (oval in outline). They are palmately 3-lobed, and sparingly dentate to smooth along their margins. There are either a few large teeth or they are absent altogether. The shallow to moderately deep lobes have pointed tips, while the base of each leaf is rounded. Upper leaf surface is medium green and hairless, while the lower surface is pale green and either hairless or hairy along the veins. The slender petioles are ¾-1½ inch long; light green to red, and glabrous. Near the apex of each petiole where it joins the leaf, there are 1-2 pairs of tiny glands with rounded tops. These glands may become deformed or nearly disappear as the season progresses. At the base of each petiole, there is a pair of simple stipules; they are deciduous and insignificant. Leaves are glossy dark green in the summer but often change to yellow-red or red-purple in the fall.


The plant produces flat-top clusters of showy white flowers in June. Flowers are white, produced in corymbs up to 13 cm (5 in) in diameter at the top of the stems. Each corymb comprises a ring of outer sterile flowers 2–2.5 cm (3⁄4–1 in) diameter with conspicuous petals, surrounding a center of small (5 mm, 0.20 in), fertile flowers. The flowers are pollinated by both wind and insects.


The fertile flowers are replaced by one-seeded berry-like (a drupe), oblong, globose, bright red, 15 mm (0.59 in) long and 12 mm (0.47 in) broad containing a single flat, white seed, strongly flattened. They become bright red at maturity during late summer or early fall. Individual seeds are about 5 mm. across, nearly orbicular in shape, and flattened. The seeds ripen from August to September. The flesh of the drupes is tart. The plant does not begin to produce fruit until approximately five years of age.

Traditional uses and benefits of American Cranberry

  • Water-soluble preparation has been used for relief of menstrual and stomach cramps and asthma.
  • An infusion of the roots has been used in the treatment of prolapse of the uterus.
  • Decoction has been given to babies with fevers.
  • Decoction of the branches has been used to treat a fallen womb after birth.
  • Bark is laxative.
  • An infusion of the roots has been used to make a person vomit in the treatment of bad blood and fevers.
  • Bark contains a bitter compound called viburnine, which has been used to relieve stomach and menstrual cramps, as well as asthma.
  • Extracting American Cranberry into castor oil makes doubly soothing lymphatic massage oil good for uterine menstrual contractions or spasmodic pain associated with urinary tract infections or kidney stones.
  • Use a tincture of American Cranberry topically as a liniment massaged over cramping areas or internally to help soothe spasmodic pain.
  • Extract the fresh bark in oil to create massage oil or salve to soothe cramping pains.

Culinary uses

  • Fruit gathered when slightly under-ripe can be used in sauces, jellies, and juices.
  • Fruits are rich in vitamin C, they are an excellent substitute for cranberries and are used in preserves, jams etc.
  • Jam made from the fruit has a very pleasant flavor that goes well in porridge.
  • Sauces made with American cranberries pair well with meats, game and poultry.
  • Flowers can be added to pancake batter or the like and made into fritters.

Other facts

  • American cranberry is used as an ornamental plant and valued for its edible fruits.
  • Plants begin to produce fruit at approximately five years of age.


  • Large quantities of the fruit can cause vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Fruit is of very low or zero toxicity, it only causes mild upsets when eaten unripe or in large quantities.






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