Autumn is prime time for cranberry harvests across the country, but they can be used to boost your health year-round. These sweet-tart berries, one of the few fruits native to North America, have been eaten and used in natural remedies by indigenous peoples for thousands of years. In fact, cranberries were used to treat arrow wounds and played a valuable role in pemmican—a high-protein food made from crushed cranberries, dried deer meat, and melted fat.
The dark hue of cranberries comes from potent phytochemicals such as anthocyanins and flavonals which have anti-inflammatory effects, says Anna Jurik, a chiropractic physician and registered dietitian at the National University of Health Sciences Clinic in Lombard, IL. With their long history of therapeutic use, the health benefits of these berries have been studied extensively.
The most well-known therapeutic use probably focuses on preventing urinary tract infections because the berries may hinder bacteria’s ability to adhere to the urinary tract. Although ongoing research has been inconsistent, there’s no harm in adding cranberries to your diet as a general preventive if you’re prone to these infections, says Jurik. Other research has found that cranberries may have additional benefits including inhibiting the formation of biofilms that cause cavities and maintaining digestive health.
On top of all that, cranberries also contain vitamins C and E as well as fiber. Plus, one cup of them has just 44 calories, so they’re a healthy part of any diet. With so many uses for cranberries, you’ll want to stock up on these antioxidant powerhouses, and freeze a few extra packages while cranberries are at their peak availability in September, October, and November. Then, put them to use use with some of Jurik’s favorite home uses for cranberries below.
Treat yourself to this beverage that’s full of good-for-you polyphenols and vitamins A, C, E, and K. Blend 1 cup unsweetened Greek yogurt, ½ cup cranberry juice, 1 banana, ½ cup frozen berries such as raspberries, and a drizzle of honey. Optional: Add 2½ Tbsp protein powder and/or 1 to 2 Tbsp flaxseed to boost fiber. You can include a few ice cubes if you prefer a thinner consistency.
Plaque-Fighting Mouth Rinse
Use this cranberry mouthwash to support a healthy mouth. Combine ¾ cup water, ¼ cup 100% pure unsweetened cranberry juice, and 1 Tbsp baking soda. Stir well. Swish several mouthfuls immediately after brushing teeth, up to 3 times per day. Store in the fridge for up to a week, and stir before each use.
Moisturizing Body Butter
Soothe parched winter skin with this cream. Use a double boiler to melt ½ cup cocoa butter, then add ½ cup coconut oil, stirring occasionally until blended. Mix in ¼ cup 100% pure unsweetened cranberry juice. Cool in the refrigerator 30 minutes. Remove and whip with an electric beater 3 to 5 min., until fluffy. Scoop into a glass jar and keep in a cool, dark place for up to a month. Use as needed.
Very Berry Sauce
Boost your antioxidant intake with this riff on traditional cranberry sauce. Combine 1 ½ cups fresh, washed cranberries with 2 ½ cups fresh or frozen blueberries, blackberries, or raspberries. Place berries in a pot over low to medium heat with 1 cup water. Gradually add ½ cup raw sugar, stirring until dissolved. Mix in 1 tsp cinnamon and 1 ¼ tsp nutmeg. When mixture bubbles, remove from stove, and let cool. Serve chilled with poultry dishes, or atop yogurt or oatmeal.
Anti-Itch Scalp Treatment
Relieve a dry scalp with this natural antiseptic solution. Combine ¼ cup water, 1 cup 100% pure unsweetened cranberry juice, and ¼ cup witch hazel. Mix well and pour into a spray bottle. Spray scalp generously and leave on overnight, using a towel to protect your pillow. Wash hair the next morning, then style as usual. Store in the fridge for up to two weeks.
Cranberry Sugar Scrub
Exfoliate dry skin with this all-natural body scrub. Puree ½ cup fresh or frozen (thawed) cranberries in a food processor or blender. Melt ½ cup coconut oil on the stove or in the microwave for 30 sec. or until liquid. Add 1 ½ cup granulated sugar and 1 tsp honey. Stir until blended. You also can add 8 to 10 drops of one of following options: lavender essential oil (for calming); tea tree essential oil (for antimicrobial effect); peppermint essential oil (for energizing effect); or orange essential oil (to boost mood). Use as needed in the shower on heels, elbows, legs, and arms. Store in a lidded glass jar in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.
Non-Alcoholic Cranberry Spritzer
Nix the alcohol (and the calories!) and raise this refreshing spritzer for your next holiday toast. Stir together 1 cup club soda, ¼ cup unsweetened 100% cranberry juice, and 2 Tbsp orange juice. Pour over ice and enjoy!
A version of this story originally appeared in the November 2021 issue of Prevention.