What are lingonberries?
Lingonberries (Prunus persica) are small shrubs native to Europe and Asia. They have been cultivated for centuries in China, Japan, Korea, India and other countries. The plant grows up to 2 feet tall with slender branches. They produce tiny red berries which taste like strawberries but are sweeter than those of strawberry. Lingonberries are very easy to grow and require little care.
The best time to grow lingonberries is spring or summer when they bloom in early April or May. When grown in full sun, lingonberries will flower profusely. If planted out in the garden, lingonberries need full sun and moist soil. The plant tolerates a wide range of soils so long as it gets enough water.
Growing lingonberries is simple if you follow these tips:
1.) Plant them in well drained soil with plenty of organic matter such as composted leaves or manure. Do not over fertilize! Lingonberries like acidic soil so if you don’t have naturally acidic soil, add crushed oyster shells to the soil before planting.
2.) Water them regularly until they are well established. They will not survive in dry conditions.
3.) Prune out any dead or damaged branches in the winter months.
4.) To fertilize, wait until spring or early summer and then scatter a cup of organic fertilizer such as manure or compost around the plant.
There are three types of lingonberries: highbush, beach and prostrate. The highbush is the type most commonly grown in gardens. It is relatively hardy and can tolerate cold temperatures though it may lose its leaves. The beach lingonberry grows along the coasts in moist sandy areas.
The prostrate lingonberry is the most frost tolerant of the three and the only one that can tolerate shade.
Lingonberries grow wild in many areas of the world, especially northern regions. The highbush variety grows in Ontario and Quebec in Canada and in the northern United States. They are very easy to grow and spread rapidly wherever they are located.
If you live in an area where lingonberries grow, you can gather the berries for personal use or for selling. Many people enjoy picking lingonberries in the wild and then making jams, jellies, syrup, juice, wines, baking ingredients and desserts. Others like to pick the berries for resale. For selling purposes, pick only the fully ripe berries.
Did you know that lingonberries are used in the production of some wines?
In northeastern Europe, lingonberry wine is quite popular. In some areas where lingonberries are grown, wild lingonberries are preferred to the cultivated kind. For example, in Sweden, it is believed that wild lingonberries give lingonberry wine a much better flavor.
Lingonberries have also traditionally been used as a dye. The berries produce a beautiful dark red color when crushed. In northern Europe, the berries were traditionally used to dye wool before more modern dyes came into use.
The plant is not without its medicinal uses. The leaves and stems contain a compound that can be used to help heal wounds. In some areas, it is referred to as “holy herb” and used in teas to treat colds and flus.
The Lakota Indians used the fruits and twigs as a treatment for kidney disorders. They also made a tea from the leaves to use as a tuberculosis treatment. They crushed the berries and used them as a facial cleanser. Early North American settlers used the twigs to make toothbrushes.
In some parts of Europe, the branches are still used as decoration during the Christmas season. They are tied with red ribbon and displayed much like a wreath would be.
Lingonberries do have a few enemies. The most dangerous is the white tailed deer who will readily eat them, especially when there is a shortage of other food sources.
Wherever you live and whatever your climate, you can grow lingonberries. If you love to forage in the wild, you will enjoy the thrill of harvesting the fruit yourself. These berries are delicious and nutritious. They are a good source of vitamin C, phosphorus, manganese and antioxidants.
They also contain good amounts of fiber and carbohydrates. They are low in calories, but they give you plenty of energy.
They make an excellent addition to a wide variety of dishes. From pancakes and muffins to meat dishes and wild game recipes, they add a wonderful flavor and zing to every meal.
If you want to grow lingonberries, the first thing you need to do is get yourself some seeds. You can order them online or perhaps you know someone who has lingonberry plants. If not, you can always collect the seeds yourself when the fruit is ripe.
Next, you will need to prepare your soil. You will need a patch of land that gets full sun at least six hours a day. Prepare the soil by digging in some organic matter such as leaf mold, rotted manures or garden compost.
You can also plant them in a container if you live in an apartment or otherwise have limited space. You will need a large pot, wooden barrel or plastic bucket that has holes in the bottom for the water to drain out.
Lingonberries need at least two feet of space between the plants and an additional foot on all sides. This means you will need a minimum of four foot by four foot area to grow just one plant. You can plant multiple plants together to give the berries more flavor, but they still need their own foot by foot patch.
You will need to plant your lingonberries in the fall as soon as you can work the soil. Dig a hole and put some of the composted organic matter into the bottom of it. Now add some of the soil you dug out on top of the organic matter. Add a little more of each until you have a hole that is about six inches deep.
Sprinkle your lingonberry seeds out onto the surface of the soil. Lightly cover with some more of the soil/compost mixture. Water it well and keep moist as it begins to grow. In colder climates, you will need to protect your young plants from freezing by using horticultural spray covers.
In warmer climates, a light frost will help the berries grow more flavorful.
Lingonberries have a long taproot, so when planting only use a small amount of soil/compost mixture in the bottom of your hole. Keep the area moist but not soggy. Fertilize them with an organic fertilizer or compost tea as they grow.
You should see signs of growth in about two months. It will take about three years before they begin to produce berries. You will get better yields if you plant multiple plants together in one area.
Lingonberries are ready to harvest when they fall off the stem when lightly tugged. Pick every other day to ensure a continuous harvest. Don’t wash them, instead just place them into the container you want to store them in. They will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.
You can also dry them, which will allow you to store them for a lot longer. Just set them out in a dry, dark place until they are nice and crispy. Place them in an airtight container or a zipper bag. You can also grind them up into a powder and store them this way.
Lingonberries can be eaten fresh, frozen, canned, juiced, dried and used in jams and jellies.
2 cups lingonberries
3 cups white vinegar
1 tsp pickling salt
1 tbsp sugar (optional)
Rinse the berries and put into a wide mouth jar. Cover with the vinegar and put the lid on. Place in a cool place (outdoors in summer is ideal) and shake daily. After a few days the berries will start to break down and release their juice.
This may take up to one week.
When the berries have released their flavor, strain the mixture through a sieve to separate the solids from the liquid. Discard the solids. Add the pickling salt and sugar if you are using it. Stir well.
Pour into a clean glass jar and store in a cool dark place for 2 – 4 weeks. Use as you would cider vinegar.
lingonberry sweet ‘n’ sour sauce
1 cup lingonberries
1/2 cup cider vinegar
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp prepared English mustard
pinch salt and pepper
Put all ingredients in a small pan and bring to to boil. Reduce heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Cool and store in the refrigerator. Will keep for up to 2 weeks.
Makes about 1/2 cup.
lingonberry and jalapeno jelly
3 1/2 cups lingonberries, fresh or frozen
1 cup apple juice
2 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 red jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
5 tbsp lime juice
7 cups sugar
Rinse the berries, remove from their stems and place in a large pan with the apple juice and ginger. Bring to a boil and then simmer steadily for 20 minutes. Place the mixture in a jelly bag and allow to drip overnight.
Put the jalapeno and lime juice in the bowl of a food processor with 2 tablespoons of the lingonberry liquid and process until smooth.
Combine the berries, apple juice, jalapeno mixture, sugar and ginger in a large pot. Bring to a rolling boil and then continue to boil for 10 minutes, skimming off the foam.
Have ready several clean jelly jars and their lids. Remove the jelly from the heat and quickly pour into the jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Wipe the rims of the jars and put on the lids and screw on the rings fingertight.
Process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes (set your timer when you turn on the stove). Remove the jars and allow to cool untouched for 8 hours. Store in a cool, dark place and use within 1 year.
1 shallot, peeled and chopped
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 cup lingonberry jam (or any other flavor)
1 cup vegetable oil
salt and ground black pepper, to taste
Put the shallot and red wine vinegar in a bowl and let it macerate for 10 minutes. Add the jam, oil, salt and pepper and whisk until well combined. Taste and adjust seasoning. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Makes 1 1/2 cups.
1 cup lingonberry jam (or any other flavor)
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
Put the jam and red wine vinegar in a small pan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and simmer until thick and syrupy, about 10 – 15 minutes. Cool and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. Makes 1/2 cup.
lingonberry red wine sauce
3 tbsp cornstarch
2 cups dried lingonberries
1 cup ruby port wine
1 cup water
1 shallot, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
salt and ground black pepper, to taste
Put the cornstarch in a small bowl and mix in 2 tablespoons of the lingonberries. Set aside.
Sources & references used in this article:
Lingonberry production guide for the Pacific Northwest by RH Penhallegon – 2006 – ir.library.oregonstate.edu
EFFECT OF MULCHING AND NITROGEN FERTILIZATION UPON GROWTH AND YIELD OF LINGONBERRIES/VACCINIUM VITIS-IDAEA L. by K Scibisz, K Pliszka – III International Symposium on Vaccinium Culture …, 1984 – actahort.org
Influence of in vitro and ex vitro propagation on anthocyanin content and anti-oxidant activity of lingonberries by SL Foley, SC Debnath – The Journal of Horticultural Science and …, 2007 – Taylor & Francis
Economic evaluation of lingonberry production in Oregon by LA Burt, R Penhallegon – 2003 – ir.library.oregonstate.edu
Morphological development of lingonberry as affected by in vitro and ex vitro propagation methods and source propagule by SC Debnath – HortScience, 2005 – journals.ashs.org
Strategies to propagate Vaccinium nuclear stocks for the Canadian berry industry by SC Debnath – Canadian Journal of Plant Science, 2007 – NRC Research Press
Lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea L.) grown in the Pacific Northwest of North America: Anthocyanin and free amino acid composition by J Lee, CE Finn – Journal of functional foods, 2012 – Elsevier
Micropropagation of lingonberry: influence of genotype, explant orientation, and overcoming TDZ-induced inhibition of shoot elongation using zeatin by SC Debnath – HortScience, 2005 – journals.ashs.org