LINGONBERRY

The lingonberry, also known as cowberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) are nature’s own vitamin, mineral and polyphenol pills.

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Seasonal change and long, light summer nights provide favourable growing conditions for the lingonberry. In winter, the snow cover protects the shrubs and provides the plant with the moisture it needs long into the spring. In summer, an abundance of light, warmth and a suitable amount of moisture ripen the lingonberries.

In mid-summer, there are 19 hours of daylight in the southern parts of the Nordic countries, and in the northern Arctic Circle region the sun does not set at all. According to research, having plenty of light will optimise the formation of phenol compounds which promotes the berries’ healthfulness. There has been a great deal of research carried out on the health effects of polyphenols, which are found in lingonberries. The berries have, for example, lignans, proanthocyanidins, resveratrol and quercetin.

In addition to its healthful properties, the lingonberry holds a special place in the Nordic culture. Lingonberries growing in the wild have always been a part of the Nordic cuisine. It is a very diverse berry. It can be used, for example, for juice, jams, purées, jellies and porridges. It’s not only for humans either, as gamefowl, thrush birds, bears, badgers, field mice and voles also consume the lingonberry.

Where to find them

Lingonberries grow throughout the Nordic countries. In Finnish forests it is the most common shrub, a berry plant that produces its fruit the most.

It typically grows in dry, semi-dry and mesic boreal forests. Lingonberry plants can also be found in boreal swamplands, broadleaf woodlands, coniferous swamplands, cliffs, tundra heaths and the edge of a field.

Yield

In the southern parts of the Nordic countries the lingonberry plant blooms in June and then loses its flowers at the end of the month.

Successful flowering requires favourable weather conditions and a sufficient number of pollinators. The main pollinators of lingonberry are bumblebees and mining bees.

Lingonberry has round, red and juicy berries that are slightly acidic. The berries are ready to be picked between the end of August and the beginning of October.

It has been estimated that the average annual yield only in Finland is 257 million kg (Turtiainen et al. 2007) and according to monitoring, it may even reach up to 412 million kg. The lingonberry flora that will garner the most yields are usually in open spaces that do not have trees overshadowing them. The best berry spots produce a yield of 100 and 500 kilograms per hectare.

Lingonberries are nature’s own vitamin, mineral and polyphenol pills

Lingonbrries also have vitamin E and are a source of dietary fibre. Lingonberry contains many minerals (e.g. potassium, magnesium and manganese) and micronutrients (e.g. zinc and iron). Arctic lingonberries are rich in polyphenols, for example, lignans, resveratrol, quercetin and proanthocyanidins. It contains lignans more than any other berry species. It is also rich in organic acids, such as benzoic acid, which play an important role as natural preservatives in berries and other foods.e

The use of lingonberries

in the North has a long history. Thanks to their benzoic acid, puréed autumn-picked lingonberries will keep in a cool place without any preservatives until the following spring. Thanks to its preservation qualities, the lingonberry has played an import role in the Nordic food culture.

Lingonberries have traditionally been preserved as purées and jams and used, for example, in porridges and as a condiment with meat dishes like reindeer and meatballs. There are numerous ways to make different purées alone: the lingonberries can be preserved whole or crushed, with sugar or without.

The tartness of lingonberries works well to flavour up bread. Lingonberries also provide a fresh flavour to pies and other desserts. Powdered and coarsely ground dry lingonberries are excellent as additions to porridges, smoothies, homemade muesli and raw food bars.

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