By Timm Nawrocki
Special to the Turnagain Times
Mary Clay Stensvold, USDA Forest Service Alaska Region, Plants.usda.gov
Lingonberries (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) grow commonly on forest floors in stands of birch and spruce, and in alpine areas, muskegs, and dry slopes.
They often can be found associated with crowberry (Empetrum nigrum) or twinflower (Linnaea borealis). Lingonberry is in the same family as the various types of blueberry, but its thick, waxy, dark-green leaves and bright red berries set it apart. The leaves alternate on the stems and they are slightly rolled in appearance.
The plant is evergreen and creeping, with stems from two to six inches long. The edible berries have a tart taste, which has lead some people to refer to the plant as Lowbush Cranberry. In Europe, the berries are commonly enjoyed as a jelly served with game meat, but the berries can be eaten raw as well.
To many Native Alaskan cultures, lingonberries were important food sources. This plant occurs all over South-central Alaska from forest floors to alpine areas, so you shouldn’t have to go far to see some and try them for yourself.
Timm Nawrocki is a Forest Service Ecology Technician.