Bush-Cranberries – Viburnum SPP.: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Alt Cranberry of Wild Plants

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Bush cranberries are a common sight in Cottage country, Ontario. These berried shrubs include hobblebush, wild raisin, nannyberry, maple-leaved viburnum and highbush cranberry. All mentioned have edible and medicinal uses.

Bush-cranberries (viburnum SPP.) are common here around Haliburton. Hobblebush (viburnum lantanoides), pictured in the featured image, is common along wooded roadsides and edges of woods. It’ll have plentiful berries if it’s along the edge and getting sunshine. It’s also found non-blooming in the understory. It’s a “bush cranberry” along with the commonly seen wild raisin (v. cassinoides), less common nannyberry (v. lentago) pictured far below, and maple-leaved viburnum (v. acerifolium). We’ve featured another in previous years: highbush cranberry. They may all have their own feature someday.

Hobblebush, one of our Bush-Cranberries – Viburnum SPP.
Hobblebush, one of our Bush-Cranberries – Viburnum SPP.

Edible Uses of Bush-Cranberries

Hobblebush flowering
Hobblebush flowering

While wild raisin and nannyberry get the foraging spotlight, all the aforementioned local bush cranberries are edible. They are best picked after our first frost. Some smell a bit skunky, but their taste is better than their scent, ranging from sour and acidic to sweet. Wild raisin, which has sweeter dark blue berries that wrinkle over time (hence the name raisin), has a prune plus banana taste.

This lot of red and blue-black berries are usually boiled and strained for preserves or cranberry sauce. A lot of mashing is required to get the good stuff removed from the stones. Pectin or pectin rich wild berries will need to be added to make the preserves. Citrus peels are a common addition to bush cranberry recipes. Or the puree could be used like an apple butter, or to make fruit leather.

The berries can be steeped for tea or juiced too. The macerated leaves can also be used for tea.

Due to the stones and tough skins bush cranberries are not used in baking. If you eat them fresh as trail nibble, spit the pits.

Note that some viburnum are toxic and can cause vomiting. But all the species mentioned in this article are edible.

Rich in Vitamin C.

Medicinal Uses of Bush-Cranberries

Bush-Cranberries are primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Digestive
  • Respiratory

Medicinal tags include Antispasmodic. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes the bark of some species, like highbush cranberry and maple-leaved viburnum, used for cramps and asthma due to their being antispasmodic.

Alternative Uses of Bush Cranberry

Red berries produce a reddish pink dye and the acidic juice acts as mordant.

Some straight shoots can be used as arrow shafts.

Nannyberry, another one of our Bush-Cranberries – Viburnum SPP.
Nannyberry, another one of our Bush-Cranberries – Viburnum SPP.

Growing Viburnum SPP.

Hobblebush is the most resistant to viburnum’s namesake leaf beetle. If you have bush around Haliburton, hobblebush is probably already there.

All have showy flowers and berries. Maple-leaved is a stout plant while the rest are bigger shrubs. Last year I obtained a couple nannyberry plants from ONPlants.ca. I hope to have every kind on the one and the hundred acre properties we tend. Many beneficial insects eat the nectar and pollen, and it’s bird food and mammal food. There are also moths and butterflies that host on viburnum, including the azures.


And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

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Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants

Eating Wild in Eastern Canada: A Guide to Foraging the Forests, Fields, and Shorelines

Stalking the Healthful Herbs (Field Guide Edition)

Medicinal and Other Uses of North American Plants: A Historical Survey with Special Reference to the Eastern Indian Tribes

Field Guide to North American Edible Wild Plants (Out of Print)

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