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Vaccinium vitis-idaea
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Foliage and fruit of var. vitis-idaea
Foliage and fruit of var. vitis-idaea
Plant Info
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Scientific classification
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Kingdom: Plantae
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Division: Magnoliophyta
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Class: Magnoliopsida
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Order: Ericales
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Superfamily: {{{superfamilia}}}
Family: Ericaceae
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Genus: Vaccinium
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Species: V. vitis-idaea
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Binomial name
Vaccinium vitis-idaea
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Type Species

Vaccinium vitis-idaea (Cowberry and Lingonberry, also rarely called foxberry, mountain cranberry, and partridgeberry) is a small evergreen shrub in the flowering plant family Ericaceae that bears edible fruit.

It is seldom cultivated, but the fruits are commonly collected in the wild. The native habitat is the circumboreal forests of northern Eurasia and North America, extending from temperate into subarctic climates.



There are two very similar regional varieties of Vaccinium vitis-idaea in Eurasia and North America:

  • Vaccinium vitis-idaea var. vitis-idaea L., Cowberry. Eurasia. Leaves 10–25 mm long.
  • Vaccinium vitis-idaea var. minus Lodd., Lingonberry. North America. Leaves 7–20 mm long.


Flowers of var. vitis-idaea

Cowberry shrubs of both varieties are typically 10–40 cm in height and have a compact habit. They prefer some shade (as from a forest canopy) and constantly moist, acidic soil. Nutrient-poor soils are tolerated but not alkaline soils. They are extremely hardy, tolerating −40 °C or lower, but grow poorly where summers are hot.

The plant is only semi-woody but keeps its leaves all winter even in the coldest years, unusual for a broadleaf plant, though they are usually protected from severe cold by snow cover. The plant spreads by underground rhizomes. The bell-shaped white flowers are produced in the early summer. The fruit, actually a false berry, is red and acidic, ripening in late summer to autumn.

The species resembles the related and similar cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccus, V. microcarpum and V. macrocarpon), differing mainly in having white (not pink) flowers, with the petals partially enclosing the stamens and stigma (the petals are reflexed backwards in cranberries), and rounder, less pear-shaped berries. Other related plants in the genus Vaccinium include blueberries, bilberries, and huckleberries.


The name "lingonberry" originates from the Swedish word lingon for the native cowberry. Because the names mountain cranberry and lowbush cranberry perpetuate the longstanding confusion between the cranberry and the lingonberry, some botanists have suggested that these names should be avoided. Many restaurants and nutritionists however use and recommend these alternate names to help increase acceptance and consumption of this delicacy and exceptionally nutritious fruit that is unknown in many English-speaking countries.

In the last canto of the Finnish national epic, Kalevala, Son of Marjatta, maid Marjatta becomes pregnant from eating an enchanted lingonberry.


Cowberries collected in the wild are a popular fruit in northern, central and eastern Europe, notably in Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, the Baltic Countries, Poland, Slovakia, and Karelia (Russia), where they can be picked on both public and private lands in accordance with the European tradition of "everyman's rights". Cowberries are a staple item in Sweden, and at the Swedish retailer IKEA. It is often sold as jam and juice in the store and as a key ingredient in dishes. Because the berries are quite tart, they are almost always cooked and sweetened before eating in the form of lingonberry jam, compote, juice, or syrup. The raw fruits are also frequently simply mashed with sugar, which preserves most of their nutrients and flavor and even enables storing them at room temperature (in closed but not necessarily sealed containers). Cowberries served this way or as compote often accompany game meats and liver dishes. In Sweden and Norway, reindeer steak is traditionally served with gravy and cowberry sauce. Cowberry preserve is commonly eaten with meatballs and potatoes in Sweden. A traditional Finnish dish is sautéed reindeer (poronkäristys) with mashed potatoes and cowberries, either cooked or raw with sugar. In Poland, cowberries are often mixed with pears to create a sauce served with poultry or game. Cowberries can also be used to replace red currants when creating the Cumberland sauce to give it a more sophisticated taste.

Lingonberries are also popular as a wild picked fruit in North America in Newfoundland and Labrador, where they are locally known as partridgeberries. In this region they are also incorporated into jams, syrups, and baked goods.

Cowberries are an important food for bears and foxes. Caterpillars of the Coleophoridae case-bearer moths Coleophora glitzella, Coleophora idaeella and Coleophora vitisella feed on its leaves.

Nutritional properties

Cowberries contain plentiful organic acids, vitamin C, provitamin A (as beta carotene), B vitamins (B1, B2, B3), and the elements potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. In addition to these healthful nutrients, cowberries also contain phytochemicals that are thought to counteract urinary-tract infections, and the seeds are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids.

Cowberries are used in herbal medicine.[citation needed] They were a major component in keeping people healthy in Sweden through the long winters without fresh vegetables. A coarse porridge with fat salt pork and lingonberry preserve was a classic meal of the winter, and a large crock of the berries preserved with sugar would be found in every larder. Owing to their high content of benzoic acid, they have the additional virtue of being able to be made into preserve without boiling.[citation needed]

External links and references

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