Pages Navigation Menu

Plants from the Ground Up

Vaccinium vitis-idaea – The Lovely Lingonberry!

Growing up and having some Swedish heritage, lingonberry jam was a pantry staple in our house.  However, most folks I speak with have never heard of them. Allow me to introduce my old friend, Vaccinium vitis-idaea.

Vaccinium vitis-idaea ‘Koralle’ - Fruit

Vaccinium vitis-idaea ‘Koralle’ – Fruit

Lingonberry is a diminutive evergreen shrub and a member of the Heath family. Small very-glossy oval leaves are arranged alternately along slender branches. These plants form a spreading clump, eventually forming dense colonies. Cute, pink-tinged white bell flowers in early summer become the delicious bright-red fruit in late-summer into autumn. Since they are self-fruitful, you only need one plant, but to really get a good yield requires a few. They are beautiful planted en masse or as a woodland border. Vaccinium vitis-idaea are tough (hardiness zone 2!), surviving extreme cold without losing their leaves. In winter the leaves turn an attractive bronzy color. These easy-going deer-resistant plants are adaptable, but prefer acidic loamy soils. Afternoon shade is appreciated and they cannot thrive in climates with extremely hot summers.

Vaccinium vitis-idaea ‘Koralle’ - Flower

Vaccinium vitis-idaea ‘Koralle’ – Flower

Vaccinium vitis-idaea ‘Koralle’ - Leaves

Vaccinium vitis-idaea ‘Koralle’ – Leaves

Lingonberries are found growing in boreal forests from Eurasia to North America. They are an important food source for bear, fox and many birds. Lingonberries are also known as cowberry, redberry or mountain cranberry. It gets its name from the Swedish name of the species ‘lingon’ which is derived from the Norse word for heather lyngr

Lingonberries were so enjoyed by Empress Elizabeth that in 1745 she had them planted in large quantities at the gardens of Peterhof in St. Petersburg, Russia. They have long been used in Scandinavia as an accompaniment with game dishes. As the berries are quite tart, they are usually cooked and sweetened before eating. Before sugar was widely available they were simply preserved by storing them in bottles of water to make vattingon or lingonberry water. Lingonberries are used to make the berry liqueur Lillehammer and other berry vodkas. The berries are actually quite healthy for you as they are rich in vitamins C, B1-3, A, and also potassium, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus.

Vaccinium vitis-idaea has a rich medical history as well. Lingonberry water was used to treat scurvy and also used as a mild laxative. The berries were also used as an antiseptic and general tonic for the nervous and gastrointestinal systems.

The cultivar ‘Koralle’ was developed in Germany for larger fruit. I highly recommend this cultivar. It has also earned the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit!

For more photos and information, see Lingonberry at the Forestfarm Store.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *