Three Ways to Use Cranberries

Cranberries growing on the bush.
Cranberries close to harvest time.
Photo: Pixabay

How do you feel about cranberries? Can’t get enough of their tangy and healthful goodness? Or – no thanks, I’ll pass? Love them or not, they find their way into all sorts of late fall dishes.

Harvested from September through November – October is National Cranberry Month – these red berries are plentiful and ready to use to improve your health, to liven up recipes and for decoration.

Cranberries, Vaccinium macrocarpon, native to northeastern North America, are commercially grown in U.S. and Canada. The process for growing and harvesting is intense using large equipment to get the work done.

Wild cranberries have been harvested and eaten either fresh or dried by Wampanoag People for thousands of years.

Home gardeners can grow these mat forming plants if the soil is acid and cold winter temperatures are right. If you can protect them from heat and drought, frost in spring and fall, and insects and viruses, this may be the plant for you. Pick cranberries by hand to harvest.

Flowers of cranberries.
Flowers before cranberries develop.
Photo: Pixabay


Native to:  North America – Canada and the United States.  In the U.S., Vaccinium macrocarpon is grown mainly in the more northern states of Massachusetts, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Oregon and Washington. Some other states grow cranberries as well. Other varieties of cranberry grow further south.

Name: Pilgrims get credit for naming the berry. The flower shape reminded them of a bird called the Sandhill Crane. ”Crane-berry,” the fruit that developed from the flower became “cranberry.”

Zones: 3-7

Leaves:  Green, oval, somewhat shiny, one half inch in length.

Blooms: 1 inch flowers spring and summer

Berries: Red, round, one half inch in diameter

Height:  6 inches

Width: 3-4 feet

Grows from: Seed or stem cuttings. Spreads by rhizomes.

Cranberries in bog flooded with water to harvest.
Commercial cranberry harvest underway. Bogs are flooded with water. Machines knock the berries off the plants and floating berries are vacuumed up for transport to processing plants.
Photo: Pixabay


  • Sunlight: Full
  • Soil:  A cranberry bed called a bog, has acid soil usually made of peat, a top layer of sand and good drainage.
  • Water:  Well drained but moist. Tolerates flooding.


Susceptible to fruit rot, viruses and insects.

Batch of cranberries.
Cranberries ready to eat, cook or use for decoration.
Photo: Pixabay

Three Uses for Cranberries:

One: Healthy for you

Cranberries have a lot of health benefits. As inflammation occurs in the body the production of free radicals increases. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can cause cell damage in your body. The antioxidants in cranberries help protect the cells from harm by preventing or slowing it down.

Two: Ways to eat them

Tart in taste, cranberries “bite you back,” as my Dad used to say. Sugar is often added to sweeten them but that ups the sugar content for those trying to keep their intake low. 

Test your toughness and drink a half cup of unsweetened cranberry juice. Whew! Embracing good health!

Mixing unsweetened cranberries with whatever else you are eating will tone down but not eliminate the tartness. In contrast, provide a flavor punch by adding cranberries to breads or any dish.

Cranberry sauce on buttered toast.
Try cranberry sauce on buttered toast.

Cranberry sauce and relish are tangy sides that complement milder tasting foods like turkey and mashed potatoes. Use in sandwiches or even on top of toast.

Cranberries are less tart if eaten raw. Just wash and eat like any other handful of berries. Toss them into a salad either whole or cut in half.

Processed dried berries have added sugar making them less tart. Available all year, they’re a quick snack. Add some to salads and recipes but use a smaller portion to keep sugar intake down.

Cranberry sauce in a bowl.
Easy to make cranberry sauce served hot or cold, pairs with any food.

Give this simple cranberry sauce recipe a try:

1 small bag fresh cranberries, washed and sorted for under ripe and/or squishy ones

1 small orange or ½ large orange

Cook the cranberries with ½ cup water over low heat until they are soft. You may need to stir occasionally to keep them from sticking to or burning on the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat. Squeeze the juice from a fresh orange into the hot cranberry sauce and stir it in. Sweetener is optional. Serve warm or cold.

Three: How to decorate with them

String cranberries for outdoor color. This is an old but still fun way to attract birds in winter. You’ll need one bag of fresh cranberries, a sewing needle and lots of thread.

Berries are likely to drip juice on furniture or floors during this activity. Use an easy to clean surface or cover surfaces to protect them from juice stain.

Pull both ends of the thread together and make a large knot in one end of the thread. This will give you a sturdier strand.

Put the threaded needle through each berry carefully moving them in line on the thread so they are next to each other. Tie off the thread with a big knot at the end of the berry lineup.

They can be hung outside on shrubs or in trees as decorations. Once they soften up some birds may find them tasty treats. You can string popped popcorn with the berries too.

Another way to decorate is by filling a glass vase with cranberries and water. Add flowers for a short term flower display. Plan on using these berries for décor only. Throw them out when done or when they start to shrivel.

Cranberries are good for your health and liven up so many dishes. If you don’t like to eat them, you can still enjoy looking at their bright red color in decorations.


Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association (CCCGA)

North Carolina State Extension

The Cranberry Institute

If you want to try to grow your own, find some helpful information here:

University of Massachusetts Amherst

Copyright 2020 Juli Seyfried