Minnesota Profile: High-Bush Cranberry
One rainy day I was having breakfast in the Gully Cafe with a couple of other botanists and a local farmer. Over hash browns and orange juice, the talk turned to one of my favorite wild foods, high-bush cranberries. Fall was in the air, and the cranberries were getting ready to pick.
The trilobum part of its Latin name refers to the three sharp lobes on its maplelike leaves. This tall native shrub belongs to the honeysuckle family, which also includes elders.
Habitat and Range
It is found in damp, open sites statewide, except in the southwest. It grows at the edges of woods and shores, in thickets on riverbanks, and in ditches and wet roadsides.
The most interesting part of the plant (at least to jelly makers like me) is the flat-topped flower cluster, which later becomes a cluster of fruits. When the high-bush blooms in June, the large, white flowers on the outside edge of the flower cluster are very showy and conspicuous. The white flowers in the interior of the cluster are much smaller. As it turns out, the outside, showy flowers are sterile: Their only job is to draw the attention of pollinators to the interior flowers, which are fertile. After pollination, each of these small flowers matures into a red, raisin-sized fruit with a single, relatively large stone inside.
Back in the Gully Cafe, we shared our tales -- "people say boiling high-bush cranberries smell like wet, dirty socks." A couple of people raised their eyes heavenward, licked their lips, and described a Thanksgiving sauce made of high-bush cranberries and heavy cream. A few years ago, I stumbled on another happy combination: rhubarb and high-bush cranberry. I had pulp left after making high-bush jelly (I use the recipe for currant jelly on the sheet in the Sure-Jell box) and found one last bag of frozen rhubarb sauce. It made a lovely dessert, if I do say so myself.
Humans aren't the only ones to appreciate high-bush cranberries. Cedar
and Bohemian waxwings, robins, and ruffed grouse also eat the tasty fruit.