Dr. Oz discovers the lingonberry

Paul
Paul Smith
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(We already know it as the partridgeberry)

According to Dr. Oz, there’s a new blockbuster super food that much of the planet has been missing out on. That’s the mainstream world, not including remote nooks and crannies like Newfoundland and Finland.

A plate fit for a Viking king — reindeer served with floury spuds and lingonberries. — Photo by Paul Smith/Special to The Telegram

It’s not really a new food — in fact, we’ve been eating them since we set foot on our rocky shores five hundred years ago. Actually, we likely never had much choice — it was berries or scurvy. It’s only now that modern science and nutrition gurus like Dr. Oz are chowing down and reaping the benefits of real honest to goodness organic and wild food.

For those of you who don’t watch enough daytime TV, Mehmet Cengiz Oz is a medical doctor who hit the big time when he appeared on Oprah to talk about medical and health issues in 2004.

And please don’t say, “Who’s Oprah?”

I know better. Nobody spends that much time hunting, hiking and fishing.

Now, Dr. Oz has his own TV program and, of course, a website. He spreads the gospel of healthy eating and an active lifestyle. Lots of what he says makes sense. He goes on and on about staying young. But I think he looks older than me and, dollars to doughnuts, I could beat him uphill on snowshoes.

He is actually slightly younger than yours truly.

I wish I could be on Oprah and become a fly-fishing guru. Maybe I should give Dr. Phil a call.

All joking aside, Dr. Oz is a heart surgeon, medical professor, author or co-author of 400 research papers, a TV host and has met Oprah. He must know something about berries and the benefit of eating them.

This is an outdoors column, not new age news, right? I’m getting there.

It’s berry-picking time in Newfoundland and Labrador. We are all outdoors gathering blueberries and partridgeberries for winter jams, jellies, buns and pies. Do you realize how lucky we are to be able to pick wild fruit for free? It’s not like that everywhere in the world. In fact, picking for free is not the norm in many places at all.

We are blessed, or should I say lucky, to be descendants of a hardy and brave, if not foolhardy lot, that set sail in wooden ships from Ireland and England to fish and live in the New World. Gathering berries for free is our birthright.

Getting back to Dr. Oz and the nutritional science of berries. The good doctor raved on for years about blueberries. We all eat them don’t we? Now he’s discovered an even more powerful fighter of disease and nasty cellular oxidation.

The lingonberry (partridgeberry to us) is the new super fruit.

Bring on the partridgeberries. I love everything partridgeberry.

I’ll stay young and hunt and fish forever, that’s if my back doesn’t give out from picking berries.

I’ll tell you a story about how much my fishing buddies and I love partridgeberry pie.

Dot’s Bakery in L’Anse au Loup is a fine spot for a coffee and sandwich. It’s tough to beat their homemade style bread.

While camping in Labrador, we buy our bread and eat a scattered meal at Dot’s.

Their partridgeberry pie is amazing.

It’s funny how traditions begin.

We were finishing off breakfast and pouring a second cup of java when Rod Hale, devotee extraordinaire of all things lingonberry, fancied a piece of pie to start the day just right. He noted the price of a full pie compared to a single slice and came to our table with a full partridgeberry pie. I figured he intended to share and positioned my knife with intent to partake.

“Get your own pie,” says Rod.

To the point, we ended up enjoying a full pie each. That was nearly a decade ago and eating a full partridgeberry pie each on our fishing trip became a tradition, kind of like paying homage to the salmon gods for rain, biting fish, and decent water levels.

That’s until they made a rule about eating full pies in the restaurant. I suppose all good things must end some day.

We did get some odd looks. Maybe we disturbed other customers.

Partridgeberries aren’t just meant for dessert.  I discovered this in Helsinki, Finland.

You might guess it anyway, but I was on my way to a river to fish for salmon.

I wanted to eat something very traditional. I went in a restaurant and sought advice and sustenance.

The waitress recommended stewed reindeer and mashed floury potatoes, served with lingonberries. She actually said floury. How could a weary and hungry traveller possible go wrong with that?

I didn’t see grub like that served at Heathrow, where I had endured a five-hour stopover, and that’s after riding the redeye flight from

St. John’s.

The berries tasted wicked and complemented the meat and spuds perfectly. I’m giving partridgeberries a go with moose this fall. Apparently, the Vikings had meat and berries figured out many centuries ago.

I’ll bet they ate caribou and partridgeberries at L’anse aux Meadows, minus the floury spuds, I suspect.

I’ll give you the tech details on the berries before I sign off.

Animal studies suggest that lingonberries can lower inflammatory molecules, block oxidants from destroying tissue, and help the body replace important antioxidants, like glutathione.

Lingonberries have also been shown to increase red blood cell and liver enzymes that are needed for antioxidant protection. Antioxidants protect blood vessels and nerve tissue, and also decrease the damage from inflammation.

Proanthocyanidin extracts from lingonberries were also found to be effective against the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, which can cause a wide variety of infections. This is good stuff.

We can walk to the barrens and pick free medicine that’s so much tastier than that banana flavored goo we spoon feed our kids.

Native North Americans have a tradition of using partridgeberries to treat people with diabetes and cardiovascular problems. Modern research is starting to catch up with what the Native Americans already knew.

A 2010 Canadian study with First Nation Cree subjects discovered that the lingonberry was able to reduce the effect of advanced glycation end products for diabetes patients. In effect, this means that eating berries can lower the risk of kidney disease, eye disease and circulation problems that can lead to skin sores and amputation.

Always remember that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Eat your berries. And you’ll enjoy the bonus of fresh air and exercise while you’re out roaming the hills to pick them.

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay,

fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted

at flyfishtherock@hotmail.com.

Organizations: Vikings

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Ireland, England Helsinki Finland Heathrow

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  • Kathleen Tucker
    October 28, 2013 - 12:09

    Good article; interesting and well researched. I'm wondering if the Vikings ate lingonberries before coming to Newfoundland.