Cowberry, Vaccinium vitis idaea.  Flowers.

Courtesy of Taka CC BY-SA 3.0 License.Vaccinium vitis-idaea (2005 09 18).jpgi Hausken {Norway}  CC BY-SA 2.0 generic License.




Here we review the Cowberry. This species belongs to the genus Vaccinium and given the species name of vitis-idaea, which derives from the Latin vitis, meaning vine and idaea,which indicates Mount Ida  and alludes to the Raspberyy Rubus idaeus. They are placed in the family of plants Ericaceae {heather}within the order Ericales.

The Latin name of Vaccinium vitis-idaea, is important for the plant is known by over twenty common names such as Lingonberry, Foxberry,Quailberry and Cougar berry .

It is found on peaty heaths and moorland, in the under-story of Oak, Birch and Pine woods on Acidic substrates and on drier hummocks in blanket bogs. It ascends from thirty meters   by Lough Neagh in County Antrim  to ten thousand and ninety five meters on Ben Lawyers {mid-Pert,Scotland}.

In North America they occur widely in Canada and in many north eastern states of the United States of America.

Cowberry showing ripe fruits.

Courtesy of Jonas Bergsten. Public domain.Vaccinium vitis-idaea 20060824 002.jpg




This species spreads by underground roots {stems} which help it to form large colonies. It is a small evergreen shrub only achieving the height of between two and seven inches tall {5-7 cm}. They keep their leaves all year round even in the coldest winters. The leaves are less than three quarters of an inch long often closer to half an inch. {1.3 cm }. They are dark green and rounded at the tip with dark spots below the edges are smooth and tend to be rolled under. The upper surface is glossy and they are arranged alternately along the stem.

The flowers are white or pinkish and bell-shaped {see header photograph. They are about a quarter of an inch {6.3mm } long and are borne on fairly short stalks.

These are succeeded by bright red berries {when ripe}  about one quarter to three eighths of an inch { 6.3-10 mm } in diameter.


Lingonberry jam on toast.

Courtesy of Hephaestos.  CC BY-SA 3.0 License.

Medicinal and culinary uses.

The Cowberry has been used in herbal preparations and are considered to have Aperitif, and Astringent properties and as a diuretic. They are also incorporated into a tonic for the nervous system.

In Austrian herbal medicine they have been used internally in the form of a syrup or jelly to heal gastrointestinal disorders,along with ailments occurring in the kidneys and urinary tract.  It was also used against fevers.

The Wild berries have always been popular in northern,central and eastern Europe,particularly in the Nordic countries.The berries are quite bitter, so they are often cooked and sweetened before eating in the form of jams,compote,juice or syrup. Soft health drinks are produced incorporating Cowberries. According to the USDA {USA}, " The acidic fruits which are sometimes are called lingonberries are somewhat bitter, but can be used as a substitute for regular Cranberries when cooked. They often overwinter on the plant and become sweeter by the time the snow melts."

The berries are also popular for culinary uses in parts of eastern Canada. Liqueur and wines are also produced from the berries. 

Cowberry   Flowers and new young shoots.

Courtesy of H.Zell    CC BY-SA 3.0 License

Vaccinium vitis-idaea 002.JPG

Cowberry in the garden.

The plants of the Vaccinium genus in horticulture are deciduous or evergreen sub-shrubs, and grown for their foliage,flowers and fruit {berries}, they are fully to frost hardy. They require full sun or semi-shade and moist but well drained acidic soil.

Vaccinium vitis- idaea is a vigorous prostrate shrub spreading by underground runners. The cultivars reach a height of up to ten inches with an indefinite spread. They are fully hardy  and form low mounds of oval hardy,leathery leaves. It produces bell-shaped flowers which are white to pink,borne on nodding racemes,from early summer to autumn. These are followed by bright red fruits {when ripe},during the autumn and winter.

Vaccinium vitis  -idaea 'minus' is an evergreen, mat-forming shrub,with tiny oval leathery leaves. In late spring it produces small,erect racemes of many tiny bell-shaped,deep pink or deep pink and white flowers. The height in flower is two to three inches {5.8 cm } with a spread of four to six inches. {10-15 cm }. It will thrive in semi-shade that has a moist but more importantly acidic soil. It is completely frost hardy.

In the UK, the Koralle group have been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.

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