It’s time to bring fresh flavour into our long winter season! Bursting with colour and flavour, wild cranberries (Vaccinium vitis-idaea), or lingonberries, are one of the most recognized berries in the North.

Cranberries can be dried, frozen, or kept in a cool cache over the winter months. Wild cranberries are smaller and more tangy than commercial cranberries, and pack a greater taste. Every autumn people go out in droves to their sacred spots to gather enough berries to get them through the long boreal winters.

If you have cranberries stored in your freezer, January, after all the feasting and festivities, is a good time bring them out to add healthiness, colour and zing to your meals.

The array of uses for cranberry as food and medicine is amazing. It’s now the star ingredient of many vitamin companies for its lead role in helping with chronic bladder infections.

Cranberries contain high concentrations of flavonoids the same ones found in grapes and red wine, both famous for being high in antioxidants. These can help lower blood-sugar levels and reduce symptoms of allergies such as hay fever.

Cranberries also contain antioxidant polyphenols that benefit the cardiovascular and immune systems. Its antiseptic properties make the berry good for preventing and treating urinary-tract infections. Wild-cranberry juice is touted for its ability to prevent bacteria such as E. coli from binding to the wall of the bladder and creating an inhospitable environment for infection.

Cranberry stimulates the production of digestive enzymes, so it’s good to have a handful before a meal. You can also add cranberry sauce or chutneys to your meats to help with heartburn or indigestion.

In Finland, lingonberry-leaf tea is routinely prescribed for nerve pain such as sciatica. And throughout Scandinavia, cranberries have traditionally been used both as food and as a medicine to treat inflammatory diseases and wounds.

Christmas and Thanksgiving seem to be the feast days when cranberries get the most attention, but the tongue-tingling fruit can be enjoyed all year.

Rich in pectin, cranberries are wonderful to make into jams, jelly, syrups, and conserves such as cranberry chutney.

The flavourful, bright red berries look and taste wonderful in pancakes, scones, muffins, breads, and strudels. They are terrific in pies, either on their own or mixed with apples or other berries.

The Yukon Brewing Company brews a Cranberry Wheat Ale that is very popular because of its tartness. Cranberries also make a nice wine or liqueur.

Wild cranberries keep really well as long as they have a nice, cool home. This is due to their benzoic acid content that acts as a natural preservative. Freezing them sweetens the berries.

Cranberries are very nutritious and high in calcium, iron, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, (small amount of) protein, sodium, vitamins A and C. The seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

So dig into your cache, find those bright berries and give your health a boost as the year begins.