Highbush Cranberry – Viburnum Trilobum: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Sour Patch of Wild Plants

Table of Contents

In Ojibwe, aniibimin. Not a true cranberry, highbush cranberry is just as tart. It’s related to blueberries. Sometimes it’s called viburnum opulus var. americanum (trilobum). Opulus is the European relation, commonly called “guelder rose” in those parts.

Our county is full of maple leafed looking plants. For instance, the literal maple-leaved viburnum (viburnum acerifolium). Highbush has many related flower look-a-likes too, like hobble-bush (viburnum alnifolium), wild-raisin (viburnum cassinoides), and nannyberry (viburnum lentago). I find there to be some work in getting familiar with which is which, and that goes for all berries. You want to be certain you’ve got the right bush. Thanks to Jobn and Buhbee for these two great highbush cranberry pictures for us:

Highbush Cranberry
Highbush Cranberry unripe
Highbush Cranberry
Highbush Cranberry ripe

Edible Uses of Highbush Cranberry

The juicy, sour berries are ripest just as the colder weather sets in, by mid-October here around Haliburton. The clusters often stay on the shrub into winter, if the birds don’t nibble at them. The berries can have a dirty sock smell that orange or lemon citrus zest will cut into. Their preparation is similar to cranberries, plus removing the stones. Eating them raw in the bush you can just spit the seeds out.

To juice them, freeze and thaw to soften them and then run through the juicer. Or mash in a quart of water per gallon of cranberries. The fresh juice will last a long time in the fridge due to naturally occurring antibacterials. The juice can be used to make wine too.

For jelly, you’ll need to add pectin. You could also boil the berries, strain, then add sugar for an easy sauce. Possibly throwing in a couple outer peels of lemon or orange. Or just boil them in maple syrup. The pulp can be used for jams or sauces too.

Try a tea brewed from leaves or steeped berries.

I remember seeing on TV, from out west, the boiled berries mixed with oil and whipped with snow to make a frothy dessert. If during regular update of this article I find a clip of this indigenous dessert being made, I will embed it!

Highbush cranberries are poor candidates for drying because they are so juicy, and the stones and tough skins limit baking uses.

High in vitamin C.

Medicinal Uses of Highbush Cranberry

Highbush cranberry is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Nervous
  • Reproductive

Medicinal tags include Astringent, Antispasmodic, Emmenagogue, and Nervine. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes as “cramp bark”. It’s been commercially sold as such. All parts contain viburnin, a muscle relaxant, which relieves menstrual cramps. Most often the bark is used. In this case, use a handful of bark shavings to make a cup of tea.

Other spasmodic conditions may be noted from stomach cramps and nervousness to asthma and even convulsions. Perhaps contractions too.

Alternative Uses of Cramp Bark

Berries produce a red-pink dye. The acidic juice can be used as a mordant to set compatible dyes.

Growing Viburnum Trilobum

You can plant the fully ripe berries straight in the soil and they may germinate in a couple of years. The standard woody cutting and root hormone route works too. Also called Water Elder “berry growing by the water”, they like it wet – shorelines, swamps, and damp forest edges.

We’ll be covering more viburnums in the future! They are wonderful native shrubs to plant.. hobblebush, wild raisin, nannyberry…!


Under ripe or large quantities of berries or tea may cause cramps and vomiting.

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.

#ads in References

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Every book I reference that is available on Amazon is linked to with an associates link.



The Path to Wild Food

Ontario Nature Guide

How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts (Native American)

Forest Plants of Central Ontario

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

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

Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook: A Home Manual

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

Field Guide to Medicinal Wild Plants

Reader’s Digest Magic and Medicine of Plants

Please Like, Comment, Share! We'd love to hear your stories and knowledge! Thank you!

1 thought on “Highbush Cranberry – Viburnum Trilobum: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Sour Patch of Wild Plants”

Leave a Comment