Vaccinium vitis-idaea (Cowberry [US] [UK, Ireland] or Lingonberry [North America]; see below for other names) is a small evergreen shrub in the flowering plant family Ericaceae that bears edible fruit. It is native to boreal forest and Arctic tundra throughout the Northern Hemisphere from Eurasia to North America. It is seldom cultivated, but fruit is commonly collected in the wild.
Vaccinium vitis-idaea grows from 10 to 40 cm (4 to 16 in) in height and spreads by underground rhizomes to form dense clonal colonies. The stems are light brown. The leaves are oval, 5–30 mm (0.2–1.2 in) long, with an smooth margin and often a notched tip.
The flowers are bell-shaped, white to pale pink, 3–8 mm (0.1–0.3 in) long, and produced in the early summer.
- Vaccinium vitis-idaea var. vitis-idaea L. — syn. Vaccinium vitis-idaea subsp. vitis-idaea.
Cowberry. Eurasia. Leaves 10–30 mm (0.4–1.2 in) long.
- Vaccinium vitis-idaea var. minus Lodd. — syn. Vaccinium vitis-idaea subsp. minus (Lodd.) Hultén.
Lingonberry. North America. Leaves 5–18 mm (0.2–0.7 in) long.
Plants keep their leaves all winter even in the coldest years, unusually for a broad-leaved plant, though in their natural habitat they are usually protected from severe cold by snow cover. It is extremely hardy, tolerating -40 °C (-40 °F) 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.
The species resembles the related and similar cranberries (Vaccinium oxycoccus, V. microcarpum and V. macrocarpon), differing mainly in having white (not pink) flowers, with the petals partially enclosing the stamens and stigma (the petals are reflexed backwards in cranberries), and rounder, less pear-shaped berries. Other related plants in the genus Vaccinium include blueberries, bilberries, and huckleberries. Hybrids between Vaccinium vitis-idaea and Vaccinium myrtillus, named Vaccinium × intermedium Ruthe, are occasionally found in Europe.
The name cowberry derives from an early mistaken belief that the Latin name Vaccinium referred to cows (Latin, vacca, but of separate etymology). The name lingonberry originates from the Swedish name lingon for the species. Other names more rarely used include csejka berry, foxberry, quailberry, mountain cranberry, red whortleberry, lowbush cranberry, mountain bilberry, partridgeberry (in Newfoundland and Cape Breton), and redberry (in Labrador). Because the names mountain cranberry and lowbush cranberry perpetuate the longstanding confusion between the cranberry and the lingonberry, some botanists[who?] have suggested that these names should be avoided.
The berries collected in the wild are a popular fruit in northern, central and eastern Europe, notably in Scandinavia, the Baltic states, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Romania, Russia, and Ukraine. In some areas they can legally be picked on both public and private lands in accordance with the freedom to roam.
The berries are quite tart, so they are almost always cooked and sweetened before eating in the form of lingonberry jam, compote, juice, or syrup. The raw fruit 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 meats and liver dishes. In Sweden and Norway, caribou and deer steak is traditionally served with gravy and lingonberry sauce. Preserved fruit is commonly eaten with meatballs and potatoes in Sweden and Norway, and also with pork. 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. In Russia this preserve had been known as "Lingonberry water" (брусничная вода) and is a traditional soft drink. 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 very 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 red currants when creating Cumberland sauce to give it a more sophisticated taste.
Lingonberries are also popular as a wild picked fruit in Canada in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, where they are locally known as partridgeberries. In this region they are also incorporated into jams, syrups, and baked goods.
Lingonberries are a staple item in Sweden, and at the Swedish retailer IKEA. It is often sold as jam and juice in the store and as a key ingredient in dishes. They are used to make Lillehammer berry liqueur, and in East European countries, lingonberry vodka is sold.
The berries are an important food for bears and foxes, and many fruit-eating birds. Caterpillars of the Coleophoridae case-bearer moths Coleophora glitzella, Coleophora idaeella and Coleophora vitisella are obligate feeders on Vaccinium vitis-idaea leaves.
The berries contain plentiful organic acids, vitamin C, provitamin A (as beta carotene), B vitamins (B1, B2, B3), and the elements potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. In addition to these nutrients, they also contain phytochemicals that are thought to counteract urinary-tract infections, and the seeds are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids.
- ^ Gray's Manual of Botany: Asa Gray
- ^ a b c d Interactive Flora of Northwest Europe: Vaccinium vitis-idaea
- ^ USDA Plants Profile: Vaccinium vitis-idaea
- ^ a b Flora of North America: Vaccinium vitis-idaea
- ^ Oxford English Dictionary
- ^ Hall, Joan Houston (2002). Dictionary of American Regional English. Harvard University Press. p. 47. ISBN 0-674-00884-7. http://books.google.com/books?id=i33BWgxbvXgC&pg=PA47&dq=%22Gaultheria+procumbens%22+partridgeberry&as_brr=3&ei=n3c_R42aOIKq6ALhm_jTDA&sig=TephPF-NpndJ_sCuNKIf_5Ghww4. Retrieved 2007-11-16.
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