Siberian Swamp Cranberries
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Siberian Swamp cranberries are small, globular berries, averaging 1 to 3 centimeters in diameter, and have a round, ovate, to oblong shape, growing on slender, fibrous stems. The skin is glossy, smooth, taut, and shiny, ripening from white, pink, to dark red when mature. Underneath the thin skin, the flesh is pale red, aqueous, and firm. Siberian Swamp cranberries are juicy and have a sharp, sour, and acidic flavor. The plant is also characterized by its dark pink to purple, drooping flowers that have a slender and curved appearance.
Siberian Swamp cranberries are available in the fall through early spring.
Siberian Swamp cranberries, botanically classified as Vaccinium oxycoccos, are a small variety that grows on an evergreen, creeping shrub that belongs to the Ericaceae family. Also known as Marsh berries, Crane berries, and Bog cranberries, Siberian Swamp cranberries are an ancient, wild cultivar that grows in cold, swamp-like forest regions across the Northern Hemisphere. Siberian Swamp cranberries have a tart, acidic, and sour flavor that is highly valued as a medicinal beverage. Once rumored to have been the drink of choice for Peter I, who believed the juice was an “elixir of youth,” Siberian Swamp cranberries have become a staple remedy in Russian folk medicine. The cranberries are also used in a wide variety of culinary applications and are paired with sweeter flavors to create a balanced, sweet-tart taste.
Siberian Swamp cranberries are a good source of potassium, iron, phosphorus, vitamin C, and calcium, and contain flavonoids, vitamins B and K, copper, and tannins. The berries have also been traditionally used in folk medicine to help reduce symptoms associated with colds, headaches, and fevers, and are believed to help cleanse the body and remove excess toxins.
Siberian Swamp cranberries can be used fresh, but due to their sour nature, they are traditionally utilized in beverages, sauces, and compotes. The berries can be pressed or grated and mixed with sugar to create a sweet-tart juice, which is one of the most popular juices in Russia, flavored with other fruit juices to make a sweeter beverage, or mixed into alcoholic drinks as added flavor. Siberian Swamp cranberries can also be dried for extended use, cooked into jams, jellies, compotes, and sauces, used to flavor soups, or utilized in desserts such as mousse and kisel, which is a popular Russian fruit dish that combines sugar, potato starch, and cream, served over ice cream, cakes, and puddings. In addition to desserts, the cranberries can also be baked into scones, bread, and muffins. Siberian Swamp cranberries pair well with honey, orange zest, citrus, pickled cabbage, mint, chocolate, apples, and pears. The fresh berries will keep 3-4 weeks when stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator. The cranberries can also be frozen for 9-12 months.
In ancient folklore, cranberries are rumored to have been named after the flower’s similarity in shape to a crane, which is a bird that frequents bogs and swampy forests. Legend has it that when cranberries were first discovered, the drooping flower petals and stem resembled the slender beak, curved neck, and small head of a crane. This rumor has been passed between many villages and peoples among Asia, Europe, and also North America for hundreds of years, and some believe the cranes also used to eat the berries in North America, which is another explanation for the name.
Swamp or Marsh cranberries are native to forests, bogs, and swamps of Asia and Europe and have been growing wild since ancient times. After their discovery, the berries have been annually cultivated, harvested, and sold as a source of income for many small towns and villages. Today the cranberries are still found growing wild and are often collected by hand for sale in local markets in Russia, including the regions of Siberia, Sakhalin, and Kamchatka, in Central Asia, in select areas of North America, and also in Europe, specifically Poland and Belarus.