Are Cranberries Man Made? History, Humans & Uses (Solved)

Many Americans consume cranberry juice regularly. But did you realize that cranberries are man-made? 

Don’t feel bad if you were unaware. Many people ask the question, “are cranberries man made?”. We’ll cover the history of cranberries and how humans became involved with their production. 

Where Cranberries Came From: History & Timeline

The Vaccinium genus and the Ericaceae family include the cranberry. Although they may be found anywhere from the tropics to the poles, they are native to the bogs and marshes of northeastern North America. 

The woody, low-growing cranberry plant is often referred to as an evergreen dwarf shrub that grows on runner vines. The weight of the pollen grains is too great for wind pollination, so cranberry bushes rely on bee pollination. 

Globally, bogs that have developed into ideal cranberry breeding habitats result from receding and melting glaciers. 

Wild cranberries, also known as sasumuneash, have been harvested and consumed by Native Americans for around 12,000 years. Also, sasumuneash is used in conventional medicine to treat various illnesses. 

Complete Timeline

  • Native American uses: Many tribes consumed cranberries. First Nation people in Quebec used crushed cranberries and juice to speed the healing of cancerous sores. 
  • In 1620, the Wampanoag of Massachusetts taught the Pilgrims how to use cranberries. 
  • In 1647, John Eliot, the “apostle to the Indians,” recorded Native Americans selling “craneberries” to English immigrants. 
  • As an act of reconciliation with King Charles II for unauthorized production of a Colonial coin, the pine tree shilling, in 1677, colonists sent ten barrels of cranberries, American corn, and codfish to England. 
  • 1789 The New Jersey legislature charges a fine to anyone who collects unripe cranberries to prevent overharvesting. 
  • 1800 The Massachusetts Wampanoag requested that the Massachusetts state legislature ensure their tribe’s access to cranberry bogs. 
  • Cranberries were first grown in 1810. 
  • In his Medical Flora, published in 1830, Rafinesque lists cranberries and attributes them with laxative, refrigerant, diuretic, antipyretic, and anti-scorbutic properties. 
  • Gay Head Indians on Martha’s Vineyard presented an Act to protect Cranberries in 1845. 
  • Sailors used cranberries to avoid scurvy in 1850. 
  • Henry Hollembaek was the first eclectic doctor to write about the therapeutic uses of cranberries in 1865. He described the cranberry’s internal uses as a “refrigerant, diuretic, antiseptic, laxative, and mild astringent,” as well as its external uses for treating gangrene and local inflammation. 
  • In Massachusetts, the American Cranberry Growers Association was founded in 1871. 
  • 1905: Cranberry is mentioned by Felter and Lloyd in their King’s American Dispensatory as a topical treatment for tonsillitis, erysipelas, inflammation, swollen glands, indolent and malignant ulcers, and boils on the tip of the nose. 
  • Researchers document the effects of cranberries on elevating urine acidity between 1914 and 1933. 
  • The 1945 Quarter Master Corps urge cranberry farmers to set aside some of their harvest for military rations. 
  • In the 1950s, Ocean Spray started promoting the use of cranberries as a food and beverage and for other health benefits, such as the prevention of urinary tract infections. 
  • Cranberry juice was shown to have health benefits between 1959 and the 1980s, including the prevention of urinary tract infections, improvement of renal health (pyelonephritis), inhibition of Escherichia coli (E. coli), and a decrease in kidney stones (calcium oxalate). 
  • 1984: According to Sobota, cranberry juice prevented E. coli and other gram-negative bacteria from adhering to different epithelial cells. Including uroepithelial cells. 
  • According to a 1991 study by Ofek et al., fructose and an unidentified large molecular weight inhibitor are two different types of cranberry compounds that inhibit bacterial adhesion. 
  • The first randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial of cranberry juice for the treatment and avertance of asymptomatic bacteriuria and pyuria- was carried out in 1994 by Avorn et al (biomarkers for urinary tract infections). Drinking 300 mL of cranberry juice every day for six months compared to a placebo reduced bacteriuria and pyuria. 
  • In 1998, Howell et al. separated PACs from cranberry fruit using bioassay-directed fractionation and found that these substances inhibit P-fimbriated E. coli adhesion to bladder cells in vitro. 
  • 1999 Cranberry Liquid Preparation is listed in National Formulary 19 of the United States Pharmacopeia. 
  • Cranberry PACs that inhibit bacterial adhesion have unusual double, A-type linkages, according to research by Foo et al. from the year 2000. 
  • 2002 The American Herbal Pharmacopoeia developed a monograph and a therapeutic compendium. The use of cranberry juice products and other treatments for urinary tract health is supported by ongoing research. Periodontal disease, anti-cancer, antiviral, and cardiovascular, among others, are just a few of the other health benefits and actions that have been discovered. 
  • 2005 Howell et al. find that foods containing PACs with only B-type linkages do not significantly induce bacterial antiadhesion activity in urine, unlike cranberry PACs with A-type linkages. 
  • Between 2007 and 2012, various meta-analyses of cranberry studies present both favorable (Jepson and Craig, 2007, 2008; Wang et al., 2012) and unfavorable (Jepson et al., 2012) conclusions regarding the effectiveness of cranberry for the prevention and treatment of urinary tract infections. 
  • A thorough summary of the prior and current studies on the numerous health benefits of cranberries was published in 2013. (Blumberg et al. 2013). 
  • The clinical effectiveness of whole cranberry powder in reducing the recurrence of UTIs was demonstrated in 2015 by the first randomized placebo-controlled trial (Vostalova et al., 2015).

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Cranberries were among the treasures of the New World in the distant past, in the 1500s and 1600s, when colonists arrived on the coastlines of North America. These berries are said to have been brought to the colonists by Native Americans. 

Before they arrived, some colonists had heard of “cranberries,” a European variety of cranberries growing in the bogs of Southern England. The first place for cultivation was Massachusetts, which had many bogs. 

Captain Henry Hall, a Massachusetts Revolutionary War veteran, found that the wild cranberries that grew haphazardly in his bogs produced better and more fruit when sand was blown over them. This led to the beginning of cranberry farming in 1816. Captain Hall started moving cranberry bushes before covering them with sand. 

When news of Hall’s method spread, many people imitated it when moving cranberry cuttings to different sites. As a result, there was an upsurge in planting and harvesting, and many individuals turned peat swamps, wet meadows, and marshes into cranberry bogs. 

Farmers were able to yearly harvest cranberries from as much as 40,000 acres by 1871. 

The Massachusetts economy depended heavily on the cranberry harvest at the start of the 1900s, a century later. Even some students were excused from class to assist with the harvest. 

wild cranberries growing in a bog

Answering The Question: Are Cranberries Man-Made?

Cranberries have been present in nature in their wild form for thousands of years, as is evident from their historical roots. 

However, are cranberries man made? The answer is no if by “man-made,” you mean anything that was produced in a lab. If “man-made” includes the enhancement and cultivation of cranberries using diverse agricultural practices- then, yes, without a doubt cranberries are man-made. 

Humans modified and breed cranberries via selective breeding. With the help of that growing method, farmers and gardeners may produce cranberries with the desired characteristics. 

The groundwork for a new cranberry business was built by vine experimentation and moving cuttings to other places. 

Selective Breeding or Man-Made?

When people ask whether fruits or vegetables are “man-made,” most of them mean the “selective breeding” procedure. 

Vegetables and fruits may be grown to increase certain traits like size and flavor via selective breeding. In addition, crop yields have also been increased via the application of selective breeding. 

Although the acidic flavor of cranberries was naturally there, it was deliberately selected through generations to produce the distinctive flavor we have today. The less sugar in that taste contributes to controlling our bodies’ blood sugar levels. 

Techniques for the selective breeding and multiplication of cranberries include seeds, cuttings, layering, and grafting. Farmers would choose the finest cranberries and breed them in the past to create a better, stronger, healthier, and tastier cranberry. 

Getting the desired qualities could take many generations.

How Humans Evolved Cranberries

cranberry farmer harvesting cranberries

The modern cranberry resulted from human creation by the end of the 1800s. During harvest, wooden cranberry scoops started to take the role of hand-picking. 

The industry now has new needs as a result of globalization. Co-ops and new businesses were founded. Cranberries were bred for flavor, and grading systems for quality, distribution, and transportation arose. 

Future innovation, selective breeding, and product development are now entirely possible because of zero-mile food movements and consumer demand for both sweeter and sourer cranberries. 

Cranberries & Genetic Engineering 

Since their genes are not being altered in laboratories, cranberries are not genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Although, biotechnology is beginning to happen to improve production and pest resistance in Wisconsin.

Some geneticists regard cranberries as a natural GMO. However, cranberry plants are referred to be transgenic. Which means genetic material from a contaminant like a fungus or bacteria can enter the plant’s genome. 

Certain bacteria can introduce tiny pieces of their DNA into plant cells, which results in genetic colonization. As a result, natural GMOs have been a constant throughout human history. 

Cranberry Production: Bogs & Vines

Most people believe that cranberries are cultivated in water since they are often grown in bogs, marshes, or other similar areas. However, cranberries are now grown on long, trailing vines in artificial bogs. 

Layers of peat, sand, clay, and gravel may be found in bogs. These vines are incredibly hardy and, if left undisturbed, may live for decades. 

Massachusetts is home to cranberry vines (including heirloom varieties) over 150 years old. Here are six bogs in New England.

Nutritional Benefits & Uses of Cranberries

close up of cranberries

Though cranberries are lovely, did you also know that they are nourishing? 

Many Americans drink cranberry juice regularly. And, because of their acidic taste and vibrant color, cranberries are also often used in cooking. 

Antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals are all abundant in cranberries:

  • Vitamin C
  • Fiber
  • Antioxidants
  • Minerals including potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, zinc, manganese, phosphorus, and selenium.  

In addition, polyphenols, substances that function as potent antioxidants, are found in cranberries. 

These nutrients offer numerous health benefits, including defense against diabetes, and cancer, helping inflammatory conditions, heart disease, and other illnesses. 

Man-Made Cranberries: Final Thoughts 

Cranberries are becoming more popular since they are valued as a source of minerals and antioxidants. A fruit that is very robust and distinctive, but one that requires unusual circumstances like fresh water and peat soil to live and grow. 

So now, you have the answer to the question, “are cranberries man made?”. They were a gift from nature, but “man-made” intervention is the reason they have been so successful! 

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Davin is a jack-of-all-trades but has professional training and experience in various home and garden subjects. He leans on other experts when needed and edits and fact-checks all articles.