Functional Food Facts: Around the World in 30 Berries

EatThis Functional Food

By Janet Colston, PhD

The Medical Qualities of Berries

We all currently find ourselves dealing with Coronavirus, the first global pandemic of most of our lives and ever changing uncertainty around the economy and our individual futures.   Each country has issued their own response to the outbreak. While many individuals are thinking about their own health and wondering what they can do to be as healthy as possible.


The CDC recommends the following measures in regard to COVID-19.

How to protect yourselfWhat to do if you are sick

Disclaimer: We are not doctors and do not prescribe this blog as a medicinal alternative to bona fide medical advice should you contract seasonal flu or Coronavirus.

Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Functional foods have historically been used in a wide variety of communities around the world for all of recorded history.  But, did you know about the diverse range of native medicinal plants around the world that are still used as traditional medicines, especially in areas where access to modern day healthcare is scarce?

There are numerous berries consumed globally that have medicinal properties proven to be  beneficial to human health. Here are a few of our favorites:

1. Acai (Arecaceae) – These are considered a superfood because they are high in fatty acids, proteins and anthocyanins which boost the immune system.  They are a dark purple fruit from the palm trees in South America and can be found in most supermarkets in dried form. [1]

2. Agarita (Mahonia Trifoliolata) – Native to Texas this is a wild currant. Native Americans used the roots of this plant for its antiseptic properties to treat fever, wounds and stomach disturbances. [2]

Amalaki-Indian Gooseberry

3. Amalaki -Indian Gooseberry (Emblica officinalis – fructus) – These are small fibrous tree bearing berries with a sour taste, grown mainly for their Ayurvedic medicinal properties and traditionally used to treat colds amongst other diseases. Rich in Vitamin C, phenols, alkaloids and tannins, the berries have powerful antioxidant and anti inflammatory properties. [3]

4. Aronia (Rosacae sp.) – This shrub is native to north America but is now cultivated in Eastern Europe, also known as the chokeberry due to its ability to ‘dry’ out saliva in the mouth. It is a rich source of health promoting antioxidants, manganese and Vitamin C which support and strengthen the immune system. [4]

Barbados Cherry

5. Barbados Cherry /Acerola (Malpighia emarginata) – As the name suggests this berry is native to the Caribbean and parts of central America. Richer than any other fruit in Vitamin C, acerola is used in commercial production of vitamins and aids the absorption of dietary iron. In addition to relief from respiratory conditions, this berry has many medicinal properties due to the antioxidants, cyanidins and quercetin that also alleviate symptoms of diabetes. [5]  

6. Barberry (Berberis Vulgaris) – Native to Europe, Africa and Asia these sour berries can be eaten when cooked – high in Vitamin C, they contain an alkaloid antioxidant, berberine, traditionally used for digestive disorders and skin infections. [6]

7. Bearberry (indigenous kinnickinnick) – A good source of nutrition for Polar bears in the Artic, these berries are collected for their medicinal qualities and used in traditional medicines for pain relief and to treat arthritis and gout. But eat with caution as overconsumption can result in adverse side effects. [7a] [7b]

8. Blackberry (Rubus fructicosus) – Packed full of tannins, gallic acid, villosin and iron, blackberries have significant antimicrobial, anticancer and anti-diabetic properties. [8]

9. Boysenberries (Rubus sp.) – These are a European hybrid cross between raspberries, blackberries, dewberries and Loganberries. Large aggregate fruits are formed, high in antioxidants and in particular potassium which helps regulate blood pressure and reduces the risk of hypertension and cardiovascular disease. [9

10. Buffalo Berry (Shepherdia argentea) – High in Vitamin C and lycopene, this colourful berry is found on the American plains. A close relation of seabuckthorn berries, large quantities can cause digestive irritation. [10]

11. Bunchberry (Cornus Canadensis) – Native to Asia, North America, Canada and Greenland these berries are found on plants related to the creeping dogwood family. This berry is a strong antibiotic, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory. Teas made from the leaves can be used to treat fever, coughs and lung diseases. [11]

12. Caperberry  (Capparis spinosa) – These are the olive sized berries of a prickly Mediterranean plant that form if capers are allowed to flower and set seed. Grown in arid regions with poor rocky soil they are packed full of polyphenols including quercetin and carotenoids, lutein and vitamin E. In Chinese medicine they are used for their anti-cancer properties and ability to lower blood glucose levels in Type II diabetes. [12

13. Cloudberry – (Rubus chamaemorus) – This is a hardy rhizomatous alpine found naturally growing in the northern hemisphere, a particular delicacy in Russia, Norway and Finland. Known to protect against cardiovascular diseases and detoxify the body by stimulating blood circulation. Like its more cultivated cousins, the blackberry and raspberry, it also prevents diabetes and improves digestion. [13]


14. Cowberry (vaccinium vitis-idaea) Also known as Lingonberry and the red whortle berry they come from a short evergreen shrub native to the boreal forest and Artic tundra regions in the Northern Hemisphere. They are just about edible and have a very sharp taste, normally found in jellies, especially if you visit IKEA. Lingonberry  has been used to treat urinary tract infections, kidney stones and more generally as a diurectic. [14]

15. Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon)Native to North America, cranberries are a popular and nutritious berry grown on vines, (some in Massachusetts are more than 150 years old).  Packed full of Vitamin C, sailors used them to protect against scurvy. They are high in anthocyanins, predominantly cyanidin & peonidin and the flavonols, myricetin & kaempferol. One of the most studied phenols, Resveratrol is found in high quantities in cranberries in addition to the carotenoid lutein. These all contribute to its disease fighting capability as a cardiovascular protectant as well as digestive and urinary tract health, and both anticancer and antidiabetic properties. [15]

16. Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) – This is one of the most commonly used medicinal berries in the world, used in ancient times from Native Americans to ancient Egyptians, it was used to treat colds and flu symptoms. But caution must be added as the raw berries need to be cooked before eating. [16]


17. Farkleberry (vaccinium arboreum) – Also known as Sparkleberries, they are astringent and sharp to taste but have been used as a herbal remedy to treat diarrhea and dysentery. They also have antiseptic properties and can treat sore throats and conjunctivitis, an occasional symptom of Covid-19. [17]

18. Goji Berry (Lycium barnarum/ Lycium chinense) – Also known as wolfberries these are native to Asia. The berries are high in antioxidants, particularly zeaxanthin which protects the eyes from UV light. Boosted by Vitamins A & C they are similar in their antioxidant effect to blueberries and used to boost immunity from colds, liver disease, diabetes and cancer. [18]

19. Gooseberry (Ribes sp.) – Native to Europe, the caucasus and northern Africa, gooseberries are closely related to currants and commonly used to reduce cholesterol levels and to treat persistent heartburn. Rich in Vitamin C, B5 & B6, copper, manganese and potassium they readily boost the immune system. [19]

20. Hackberry (Celtis Occidentalis) – Native to north America and Canada, these berries were used by Native Indians to treat jaundice and sore throats due to antioxidant properties. [20]

21. Himalayan Blackberry (Rubus armeniacus) – This berry is originally native to Armenia and Northern Iran and widely naturalised elsewhere. It is considered an invasive species colonising roadsides and pastures. It has similar medicinal uses to the more common blackberry, Rubus Fructicosus. [21]

22. Huckleberry  (Vaccinium ovatum) – Native to the Pacific Northwest, they have high levels of Vitamin C,  known to protect against heart disease, and eye diseases. [22]

23. Juneberry (Amelanchier canadensis) – Also known as the Canadian Serviceberry it is found in hedgerows in North America and Britain. Packed with Vitamins and minerals it can be made into a herbal tea to boost immune systems. [23]


24. Mulberry (Morus sp.) – Mulberries, black/white/red are sweet nutritional berries high in antioxidant anthocyanins and packed with Vitamins C, K1 & E, Iron and potassium which boost immunity. [24]

Nanny berry

25. Nanny Berry (Viburnum Lentago) – Native to North America, also called the sheepberry the fruit can be used to treat respiratory diseases and digestive problems as well as anxiety and pain relief. [25]

26. Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) –  Native to the Pacific Northwest, west central regions and Northwest Europe, salmonberry is closely related to the raspberry, thimbleberry and cloudberry. High in manganese, Vitamins A, C and K, the berries have protective  cardiovascular properties. [26]

27. Schisandra berry (schisandra chinensis) – The fruits are also known as magnolia berry or five flavor fruit, and are native to forests of Northern China and Russia. The berry seeds contain dibenzo-cyclooctadiene lignans that display hepatoprotective effects with an ability to increase vitamin C levels in the liver. The berries are high in antioxidants that protect the brain, heart and liver and have beneficial effects in the treatment of respiratory diseases. [27]


28. Siberian ginseng Berry (Eleutheracoccus senticosus)  Native to Northeastern Asia, it is also known as the devil’s bush. The berries have been traditionally used to treat colds and boost the immune system,  particularly inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. The dried fruits, consumed as food, are rich in calcium and minerals and flavonoids. [28]

29. Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) – Also known as waxberry or ghostberry they are native to north and central America. The berries contain saponins so are fairly inedible and can be toxic in large quantities. However Native Americans used the berries topically to treat wounds and eye infections. [29]

30. Sugarberry (Celtis Laevigata) – also called the Texan Hackberry, this is a southern state variety of the hackberry and has similar medicinal properties. [30]

Growing Berries

Growing cultivated types of berries such as strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, currants, (we will discuss in more detail in subsequent articles), blackberries and gooseberries are commonplace and they do well in suitable choices of soil with little maintenance apart from occasional pruning. However, wild berries that have adapted to very specific climates are more of a challenge to grow in non native geographies and climatic conditions.

If you want to try these in hydroponics take a look at these resources:

Essentials for growing hydroponic strawberries successfully

Sustainable Hydroponic and Soilless Strawberry Production Systems YouTube Channel

Janet Colston PhD is a pharmacologist with an interest in growing ‘functional’ foods that have additional phytonutrients and display medicinal qualities that are beneficial to human health. She grows these using a range of techniques including plant tissue micropropagation and controlled environmental agriculture to ensure the highest quality control.

2 thoughts on “Functional Food Facts: Around the World in 30 Berries

  1. Very interesting article. Didn’t know about gooseberries being good for heartburn. Every day a school day.

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