Winnipeg, August 22, 2023 – A first of its kind partnership between the Canadian Centre for Agri-Food Research in Health & Medicine (CCARM) and Assiniboine Park Conservancy (APC) brings the mighty lingonberry to its Gardens at The Leaf, with an aim to build public knowledge of this nutritionally rich wild berry from the north that may soon be grown on Manitoba farms.
Native to British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Atlantic Canada, these small, bright red and slightly sweet berries have caught the attention of researchers for their incredible health benefits and potential as a valuable crop for Canadian growers. And while they are popular and widely available in Scandinavian countries, the lingonberry is not familiar to most people and not yet commercially grown on a large scale for Canadian consumers to enjoy and benefit from.
To help address that knowledge gap, Assiniboine Park’s Kitchen Garden at The Leaf now features 50 lingonberry plants, thanks to a donation from food science researchers at CCARM and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Research and Development Centre in Morden, which has propagated commercial lingonberry plants to suit Manitoba’s growing conditions for farmers and berry growers further south.
Dr. Chris Siow, CCARM food scientist located at the Albrechtsen Research Centre at St. Boniface Hospital, has been delving into the myriad of health properties possessed by lingonberries for over 15 years.
“This berry from the north has untapped potential as a versatile, flavourful, and nutritious approach to maintaining kidney health and reducing inflammation, as shown by our research,” he explains. “It is three times richer in antioxidants than blueberries or cranberries, and we hope Canadians can one day buy Manitoba grown lingonberries as easily as other berries for their smoothies, baking, jams and jellies.”
By bringing the plants to the Gardens at The Leaf, Siow and his research colleagues hope visitors from all walks of life, whether garden lovers, foodies, culinary students or just nature lovers, can learn more about the lingonberry.
As the demand for lingonberries currently outstrips the supply from wild harvest, Canadian producers have a golden opportunity to embrace lingonberry cultivation and capitalize on the increasing market demand. The plants donated to Assiniboine Park are a commercially available European variety that has been acclimatized to southern Manitoba growing conditions.
Drs. Siow and Molina are currently working to develop a hybrid lingonberry that combines the higher yield of the European lingonberry with the antioxidant-rich wild variety that grows in northern Canada, but is more difficult to harvest on a broad scale.
“Right now, there are no commercial growers of lingonberries in Manitoba, but we hope that will change soon,” explained Oscar Molina, Siow’s colleague who oversees the lingonberry test plots at AAFC’s Research and Development Centre in Morden, where commercial lingonberry cultivars are being developed to adapt to Manitoba’s agricultural growing conditions.
So far, the lingonberry bushes, which were planted in late June, are looking good in their new home in the Kitchen Garden at The Leaf. The Kitchen Garden is home to a variety of vegetables, fruits, herbs, and other edible plants as well as plantings that thematically connect with the adjacent Indigenous Peoples Garden.
‘In the Kitchen Garden, we explore the connection between nature and culture through food and cuisine,” said Gerald Dieleman, Senior Director of Horticulture, Assiniboine Park Conservancy. “This includes showcasing a variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and other edible plants that can be grown in Manitoba. We are very pleased to be able to share the story of the lingonberry with Park visitors.”