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A glossy, scarlet red, very tart berry, the cranberry belongs to the same genus as the blueberry, Vaccinium. (Both berries also belong to the food family called Ericaceae, also known as the heath or heather family.) Like blueberries, cranberries can still be found growing as wild shrubs in northern Europe, northern Asia, and North America. When cultivated, however, cranberries are grown on low trailing vines atop great sandy bogs. Cranberries have also been called "bounceberries," because ripe ones bounce, and "craneberries," a poetic allusion to the fact that their pale pink blossoms look a bit like the heads of the cranes that frequent cranberry bogs. The variety cultivated commercially in the northern United States and southern Canada, the American cranberry, produces a larger berry than either the Southern cranberry, a wild species that is native to the mountains of the eastern United States, or the European variety. Cranberries have long been valued for their ability to help prevent and treat urinary tract infections. Now, recent studies suggest that this native American berry may also promote gastrointestinal and oral health, lower LDL and raise HDL (good) cholesterol, aid in recovery from stroke, and even help prevent cancer. Fresh cranberries, which contain the highest levels of beneficial nutrients, are at their peak from October through December, just in time to add their festive hue, tart tangy flavor and numerous health protective effects to your holiday meals. When cranberries' short fresh season is past, rely on unsweetened cranberry juice made from whole berries and dried or frozen cranberries to help make every day throughout the year a holiday from disease.

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