My world is full of food right now, specifically cranberries. They’re in every recipe, commercial and dinner menu. So, besides being a delivery system for more sugar and their bright seasonal color that provides contrast to gravy on the plate, are there any real benefits to eating cranberries?
You aren’t alone. Every year, growers produce 400 million tons of cranberries, of which 20 percent is consumed during Thanksgiving week. That means we all have visions of cranberries these days.
But first, a short history lesson. Native Americans of the Northeast were aware of the health benefits of cranberries long before the Europeans arrived. Early European settlers were already familiar with the wild “craneberry” whose flower resembles the head of a sandbill crane. They brought a culinary tradition of using tangy fruit sauces for meats to mask either the gamey flavor or hide the less-than-fresh taste. In time, they began using the cranberries, not only for flavor, but for health problems as well, such as appetite loss, stomach problems and blood disorders. Cranberries are high in vitamin C and were adopted to treat scurvy, too.
The cranberry is a native American fruit growing in the swamps and bogs of northeastern North America. It’s found from the east coast of the United States all the way to Minnesota, and from the Canada Maritimes south to the mountains of Georgia. It’s a low-growing, trailing, woody perennial vine that forms thick mats over the surface of the bed. Short upright branches form buds along the runners from which the flowers bud and the fruit grows.
The bright red pop of color on the dinner plate comes from the cranberry’s abundance of a substance called proanthocyanidins, an antioxidant which neutralizes free radicals in the body thought to contribute to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other conditions.
Today, both the Mayo Clinic and the National Kidney Foundation report that cranberry juice (as much as two cups a day) may promote normal kidney function, reduce the chance of clogged arteries, and could retard the development of kidney infections and kidney stones.
With cranberry production being the third most important export from the state of Massachusetts, it’s no wonder that the University of Massachusetts continues to research the fruits potential health benefits. UM Dartmouth reports cranberries may also be beneficial for promoting oral health, anti-aging, and protection against some cancers.
If you already have kidney stones or a urinary tract infection, consult your doctor before self-medicating with cranberries, cranberry juice or tablets. It’s possible they might exacerbate your illness.
I’ve tried using poinsettia blossoms as cut flowers in arrangements, but find that they wilt quickly. Are they not meant to be cut or am I doing something wrong?
This is a particularly timely question with Dec. 12 just around the corner. That’s National Poinsettia Day, commemorating the death of Joel Roberts Poinsett, the botanist who introduced the plant to the U.S. from southern Mexico in 1828. That’s an excuse to fill the house with flowers if ever there was one.
There’s no reason you can’t bring your blossoms indoors. It just takes a little technique and you’ll find you can keep them for a couple of weeks.
You want to cut your flowers at night (which your neighbors might find a little creepy) or first thing in the morning when their stems are filled with water. As the day warms up, flowers gradually dehydrate. Make your cuttings longer than you need them to be and bring them in as quickly as you can. Your goal is to keep air from moving into the xylem, the tissue that conducts water upward from the roots. Once those cells are clogged, the cut stem won’t be able to take up water while in the arrangement and will wilt.
You’re probably already aware that the poinsettia excretes a milky sap when the stems or leaves are broken. People with latex allergies may have a skin reaction, but for most people it’s just a harmless sticky irritation.
When you bring the cut stems in, remove any leaves that will end up below the water line. Hold the stem under water so that the latex does not have time to dry, and make a fresh cut on an angle. Put the cut stem in cool water. After about 30 minutes, replace the cloudy water with fresh water.
The University of Minnesota recommends adding a commercial floral preservative to the water to prolong the blossoms life. Preservatives are complex concoctions of sugars, acidifiers and respiration inhibitor. Forget about putting an aspirin, wine or pennies in the vase. Research show they simply don’t work.
Check the arrangement’s water level daily. Every two or three days, make a fresh cut while holding the stem underwater just as you did initially. Poinsettias are fickle and don’t like conditions that are too hot like a spot near the fireplace, or too cold like a location in a draft.
Incidentally, contrary to rumors, no part of the poinsettia is poisonous. Research has shown that, typically, a person would have to eat 500-700 poinsettia leaves before having a serious problem. Since the leaves aren’t tasty, most children and animals would stop after just one without being scolded.
Yes, it’s all a bit of a bother, but so well worth the effort when you look at your beautiful floral masterpiece, and think, “What’s Martha got that I don’t have?”
Paula Weatherby is a master gardener with the Duval County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS. If you have gardening questions, you can speak to a master gardener from 9:30 a.m. to noon and 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Duval extension office at (904) 255-7450.