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Vaccinium vitis-idaea

Template:Italic title Template:TaxoboxTemplate:Commons category Vaccinium vitis-idaea (lingonberry, partridgeberry or cowberry) is a short evergreen shrub in the heath family that bears edible fruit, native to boreal forest and Arctic tundra throughout the Northern Hemisphere from Eurasia to North America. Lingonberries are picked in the wild and used to accompany a variety of dishes in Northern Baltoscandia<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> and Russia. Commercial cultivation is undertaken in the U.S. Pacific Northwest<ref>"Economic Evaluation of Lingonberry Production in Oregon" "Oregon State University Extension Service" Dec 2003 [1]</ref> and in many other regions of the world.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>


Vaccinium vitis-idaea is most commonly known in English as lingonberry or cowberry.<ref name="stang"/><ref name="Gray's Manual of Botany">Gray's Manual of Botany: Asa Gray</ref><ref name="Flora">Interactive Flora of Northwest Europe: Vaccinium vitis-idaeaTemplate:Dead link</ref><ref name="USDA">Template:PLANTS</ref> The name lingonberry originates from the Swedish name lingon for the species, and is derived from the Norse lyngr, or heather.

The genus name Vaccinium is a classical Latin name for a plant, possibly the bilberry or hyacinth, and may be derived from the Latin bacca, berry.<ref>Template:Cite book p. 515.</ref><ref>Template:Cite book p. 187.</ref> The specific name is derived from Latin vitis ("vine") and idaea, the feminine form of idaeus (literally "from Mount Ida", used in reference to raspberries Rubus idaeus).<ref name="mw">Template:Cite web</ref><ref name="bo">Template:Cite web</ref>

There are at least 25 other common English names of Vaccinium vitis-idaea worldwide, including:<ref name="stang">Template:Cite book</ref>

  • foxberry
  • quailberry
  • bearberry
  • beaverberry
  • mountain cranberry
  • red whortleberry
  • lowbush cranberry
  • cougarberry
  • mountain bilberry
  • partridgeberry<ref name="Hall">Template:Cite book</ref> (in Newfoundland and Cape Breton Island)
  • redberry (in Labrador and the Lower North Shore of Quebec)


Flowers and young shoots

Vaccinium vitis-idaea spreads by underground stems to form dense clonal colonies. Slender and brittle roots grow from the underground stems. The stems are rounded in cross-section and grow from Template:Convert in height. Leaves grow alternately and are oval, Template:Convert long, with a slightly wavy margin, and sometimes with a notched tip.


The flowers are bell-shaped, white to pale pink, Template:Convert long, and produced in the early summer.

The fruit is a red berry Template:Convert across, with an acidic taste, ripening in late summer to autumn.<ref name="Flora"/><ref name="FNA">Flora of North America: Vaccinium vitis-idaea</ref>

Conservation status in the United States

The plant is endangered in Michigan.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> The minus subspecies listed as a species of special concern and believed extirpated in Connecticut.<ref>"Connecticut's Endangered, Threatened and Special Concern Species 2015". State of Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Bureau of Natural Resources. Retrieved 7 January 2017. (Note: This list is newer than the one used by plants.usda.gov and is more up-to-date.)</ref>


Vaccinium vitis-idaea keeps its leaves all winter even in the coldest years, unusual for a broad-leaved plant, though in its natural habitat it is usually protected from severe cold by snow cover. It is extremely hardy, tolerating temperatures as low as Template:Convert or lower, but grows poorly where summers are hot. It prefers some shade (as from a forest canopy) and constantly moist, acidic soil. Nutrient-poor soils are tolerated but not alkaline soils.


Vaccinium vitis-idaea var. minus

There are two regional varieties or subspecies of V. vitis-idaea, one in Eurasia and one in North America, differing in leaf size:

  • V. vitis-idaea var. vitis-idaea L. — syn. V. vitis-idaea subsp. vitis-idaea.
    Cowberry. Eurasia. Leaves Template:Convert long.<ref name="Flora"/>
  • V. vitis-idaea var. minus Lodd. — syn. V. vitis-idaea subsp. minus (Lodd.) Hultén.
    Lingonberry. North America. Leaves Template:Convert long.<ref name="FNA"/>


Lingonberry has been commercially cultivated in the Netherlands and other countries since the 1960s. Empress Elizabeth ordered lingonberry to be planted all over Peterhof in 1745.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

In cultivation in the United Kingdom, the Koralle Group has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

Culinary uses

The berries collected in the wild are a popular fruit in northern, central and eastern Europe, notably in Nordic countries, the Baltic states, central and northern Europe. In some areas, they can legally be picked on both public and private lands in accordance with the freedom to roam.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

The berries are quite tart, so they are often cooked and sweetened before eating in the form of lingonberry jam, compote, juice, smoothie or syrup. The raw fruits are also frequently simply mashed with sugar, which preserves most of their nutrients and taste. This mix can be stored at room temperature in closed but not necessarily sealed containers, but in this condition, they are best preserved frozen. Fruit served this way or as compote often accompany game and liver dishes.

In Sweden and Norway, reindeer and elk steak is traditionally served with gravy and lingonberry sauce. Preserved fruit is commonly eaten with meatballs, potato pancakes. A traditional Swedish dessert is lingonpäron (literally lingonberry pears), consisting of fresh pears which are peeled, boiled and preserved in lingondricka (lingonberry juice) and is commonly eaten during Christmas. This was very common in old times, because it was an easy and tasty way to preserve pears. In Sweden and Russia, when sugar was still a luxury item, the berries were usually preserved simply by putting them whole into bottles of water. This was known as vattlingon (watered lingonberries); the procedure preserved them until next season. This was also a home remedy against scurvy.

This traditional Russian soft drink, known as "lingonberry water", is mentioned by Alexander Pushkin in Eugene Onegin. In Russian folk medicine, lingonberry water was used as a mild laxative. A traditional Finnish dish is sautéed reindeer (poronkäristys) with mashed potatoes and lingonberries, either cooked or raw with sugar. In Finland, a porridge made from the fruit is also popular. In Poland, the berries are often mixed with pears to create a sauce served with poultry or game. The berries can also be used to replace redcurrants when creating Cumberland sauce.

19th century illustration

The berries are also popular as a wild picked fruit in Eastern Canada, for example in Newfoundland and Labrador and Cape Breton, where they are locally known as partridgeberries or redberries, and on the mainland of Nova Scotia, where they are known as foxberries. In this region they are incorporated into jams, syrups, and baked goods, such as pies, scones, and muffins.

In Sweden lingonberries are often sold as jam and juice, and as a key ingredient in dishes. They are used to make Lillehammer berry liqueur; and, in East European countries, lingonberry vodka is sold, and vodka with lingonberry juice or "mors" is a popular cocktail.

The berries are an important food for bears and foxes, and many fruit-eating birds. Caterpillars of the case-bearer moths Coleophora glitzella, Coleophora idaeella and Coleophora vitisella are obligate feeders on V. vitis-idaea leaves.

In Native American cuisine

Alaska natives mix the berries with rose hip pulp and sugar to make jam, cook the berries as a sauce, and store the berries for future use.<ref>Heller, Christine A., 1953, Edible and Poisonous Plants of Alaska, University of Alaska, page 109</ref> The Dakelh use the berries to make jam.<ref>Carrier Linguistic Committee, 1973, Plants of Carrier Country, Fort St. James, BC. Carrier Linguistic Committee, page 76</ref> The Koyukon freeze the berries for winter use.<ref>Nelson, Richard K., 1983, Make Prayers to the Raven--A Koyukon View of the Northern Forest, Chicago. The University of Chicago Press, page 55</ref> Eskimos dilute and sweeten the juice to make a beverage, freeze and store the berries for spring, and use the berries to make jams and jellies.<ref>Porsild, A.E., 1953, Edible Plants of the Arctic, Arctic 6:15-34, page 22 Note: The source simply lists "Eskimo" rather than a specific group.</ref> The Inupiat use the berries to make two different desserts, one where the berries whipped with frozen fish eggs and eaten, and they mash raw berries mashed with canned milk and seal oil. They also make a dish of the berries cooked with fish eggs, fish (whitefish, sheefish or pike) and blubber.<ref>Jones, Anore, 1983, Nauriat Niginaqtuat = Plants That We Eat, Kotzebue, Alaska. Maniilaq Association Traditional Nutrition Program, page 86</ref>

The Upper Tanana boil the berries with sugar and flour to thicken, eat the raw berries, either plain or mixing them with sugar, grease or the combination of the two, fry them in grease with sugar or dried fish eggs, and make them into pies, jam, and jelly. They also preserve the berries alone or in grease and stored them in a birchbark basket in an underground cache, or freeze them.<ref name="Kari, Priscilla Russe 1985, page 9">Kari, Priscilla Russe, 1985, Upper Tanana Ethnobotany, Anchorage. Alaska Historical Commission, page 9</ref>

Use of the minus subspecies

The Anticosti people use the fruit to make jams and jellies.<ref>Rousseau, Jacques, 1946, Notes Sur L'ethnobotanique D'anticosti, Archives de Folklore 1:60-71, page 68</ref> The Nihithawak Cree store the berries by freezing them outside during the winter, mix the berries with boiled fish eggs, livers, air bladders and fat and eat them, eat the berries raw as a snack food, and stew them with fish or meat.<ref name="Leighton, Anna L. 1985, page 64">Leighton, Anna L., 1985, Wild Plant Use by the Woods Cree (Nihithawak) of East-Central Saskatchewan, Ottawa. National Museums of Canada. Mercury Series, page 64</ref> The Eskimos of Nelson Island eat the berries,<ref>Ager, Thomas A. and Lynn Price Ager, 1980, Ethnobotany of The Eskimos of Nelson Island, Alaska, Arctic Anthropology 27:26-48, page 37</ref> as do the Eskimos of the Northern Bering Sea and Arctic regions of Alaska.,<ref>Anderson, J. P., 1939, Plants Used by the Eskimo of the Northern Bering Sea and Arctic Regions of Alaska, American Journal of Botany 26:714-16, page 715</ref> as well as the Western Canadian Inuktitut.<ref name="Wilson, Michael R. 1978, page 183">Wilson, Michael R., 1978, Notes on Ethnobotany in Inuktitut, The Western Canadian Journal of Anthropology 8:180-196, page 183</ref> The Haida people, Hesquiaht First Nation, Wuikinuxv and Tsimshian all use the berries as food.<ref>Compton, Brian Douglas, 1993, Upper North Wakashan and Southern Tsimshian Ethnobotany: The Knowledge and Usage of Plants..., Ph.D. Dissertation, University of British Columbia, page 101</ref>

Nutritional properties

Ripe lingonberries

The berries contain plentiful organic acids, vitamin C, vitamin A (as beta carotene), B vitamins (B1, B2, B3), and the elements potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus.<ref name="foodcomp">Template:Cite web</ref>

Traditional medicine

In folk medicine, V. vitis-idaea has been used as an apéritif, astringent, antihemorrhagic, anti-debilitive, depurative, antiseptic (especially for the urethra), a diuretic, a tonic for the nervous system, and in various ways to treat breast cancer, diabetes mellitus, rheumatism, and various urogenital conditions.<ref name=jad>Template:Cite web</ref>

In traditional Austrian medicine the fruits have been administrated internally as jelly or syrup for treatment of disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, kidneys and urinary tract, and fever.<ref>Template:Cite journal</ref>

Medicinal use by Native Americans

The Upper Tanana eat the berries or use the juice of the berries to treat colds, coughs and sore throats.<ref name="Kari, Priscilla Russe 1985, page 9"/>

Other uses

The Nihithawak Cree use the berries of the minus subspecies to color porcupine quills, and put the firm, ripe berries on a string to wear as a necklace.<ref name="Leighton, Anna L. 1985, page 64"/> The Western Canadian Inuktitut use the minus subspecies as a tobacco additive or substitute.<ref name="Wilson, Michael R. 1978, page 183"/>

Related species

Vaccinium vitis-idaea differs from the related cranberries in having white flowers with petals partially enclosing the stamens and stigma, rather than pink flowers with petals reflexed backwards, and rounder, less pear-shaped berries.

Hybrids between Vaccinium vitis-idaea and Vaccinium myrtillus, named Vaccinium × intermedium Ruthe, are occasionally found in Europe.<ref name="Flora"/>




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