Native Americans used to grind cranberries and use the paste to fight wound infections. Treated by high levels of acidity and vitamin C, the mixture also formed “a barrier so the skin and wound could heal underneath,” says Kathleen Wall, culinary historian at Plymouth Plantation.
Recent research at the USDA's Food Composition and Methods Development Lab in Beltsville, Md., reveals advantages of eating the bitter berry. Anthocyanins – responsible for the berry’s vibrant red color – not only potentially slow aging with its antioxidant properties (only proven in the test tube), it considerably reduces inflammation.
“And inflammation is not only something we see with infectious disease, but chronic low levels [of inflammation] now appear to be an important risk factor for both cardiovascular disease and cancer," says Jeffrey Blumberg at Tufts University.
Another reason to add cranberries to your diet: the indigenous fruit contains compounds that help prevent bacteria like E. coli and staph from bonding to our cells.
“So there's some truth to the old wives' tale that drinking cranberry juice can help prevent urinary tract infections. But it's not quite a primitive antibiotic,” says researcher Diane McKay of Tufts University. "It kind of prevented the infection," she says, but "I don't think it would be able to treat it."