Two years of petitions and lobbying by a fifth-grade class on the North Shore were rewarded in 1994 when Massachusetts legislature recognized the cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) as official state berry. Cranberry is also one of the official state colors of Massachusetts and cranberry juice is the state beverage.
Cranberries grow in the northern part of the USA and southern Canada in "bogs" or "marshes" (original bogs were created by glacial deposits). Learn more on the Massachusetts state beverage page. Cranberries are one of only three commercially cultivated fruits native to North America (blueberries and concord grapes also originated in North America). Cranberries are a tradition for all Americans at Thanksgiving.
Cranberries were important in the diets of American Indians for hundreds of years before the Pilgrims landed. They ate them raw, dried, boiled with honey or maple sugar, and baked with cornmeal into bread. A mixture of cranberries, cornmeal, deer meat, and animal fat was pounded into cakes and dried in the sun to make pemmican (a 'trail cake' that did not spoil for hunting trips and long journeys).
Cranberry and white Massachusetts license plate -
photo by Norm Russo (used by permission)
The Indians also used cranberries for dye to color robes, rugs and blankets, and for medicinal purposes (they believed cranberries had a calming effect on nerves, and they made a poultice from cranberries to draw the poison from arrow wounds). Pilgrims learned about the berry from the Indians and cranberries became part of the colonial diet as well. The Pilgrims thought the cranberry blossom resembled the head of a sandhill crane and originally called them "crane berries." Sailors began taking cranberries aboard ships for whaling expeditions and the long journeys to China (cranberries are high in vitamin C and prevented scurvy).
Cranberry harvest - public domain photo by Keith Weller | USDA-ARS