Bright-colored berries, popularly eaten on their own or added to various dishes, are known to deliver vital health benefits. Aside from the usual strawberries, blueberries and blackberries, there are more berry varieties out there, some of which you might have not even heard of. Cloudberry is one interesting example.
What Is Cloudberry?
An Arctic, north-temperate species, cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus L.) comes from the Rosaceae (rose family) and can be found growing wild in cool or cold environments. In North America, you can see it in regions like Newfoundland, Alaska and British Columbia. In countries like Norway, Finland, England, Sweden and Russia, cloudberry also thrives well.1
A low-growing perennial, cloudberry typically grows in boggy and open tundra or forests. The plant is dioecious, meaning there are male or female cloudberry plants, with the latter known to produce the fruits.2
Cloudberry fruits form on very slender stems that aren’t more than 2 to 8 inches high. According to the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service, cloudberry plants can be distinguished by their two to three circular leaves, each with rounded lobes and toothed edges, alongside a single white, five-petal flower. Meanwhile, the small and round berry itself is composed of six to eight drupelets.3
An unripe cloudberry fruit is hard, red and sour, but as it ripens, it softens and lightens, turns either a rosy peach or amber hue and develops a sweet flavor. The taste is tart but floral, and can be described as a combination of red currant and raspberry.4
Cloudberry retains its distinct shape because of its juice. When the juice oozes out, a small percentage of fiber (found in the thin skin) and a number of seeds remain.5 You can use these seeds to grow new cloudberry plants.6 Unfortunately, cloudberry isn’t widely cultivated, so it isn’t exported and may not be available in many areas around the world.7
Health Benefits of Cloudberry
Just like other berries, cloudberry can positively impact the body by:8
• Improving the immune system: Cloudberry contains vitamin A, which provides carotenoids that act as antioxidants to help protect the skin and the eyes against the signs of aging. Meanwhile, vitamin C in cloudberry can stimulate white blood cell production and serve as an antioxidant that can neutralize harmful free radicals.9
• Helping with blood circulation: Cloudberry contains iron,10 which can be important for blood circulation. This mineral is essential for red blood cell production, and may help reduce your risk for anemia.11,12
• Improving skin health: Ellagic acid, another important antioxidant, is found in cloudberry.13 This acid is said to have photoprotective effects that may help minimize the appearance of wrinkles caused by UVB radiation.14
• Promoting better digestive health: Phenolics in cloudberry may be beneficial in preventing development of gastrointestinal pathogens such as Salmonella and Staphylococcus.15
Common Uses of Cloudberry
Because of cloudberry’s juicy and tart quality, some cooks incorporate them into recipes. This berry is often mixed into jams, candies, alcoholic beverages and baked goods.16 Cloudberry is dominantly used in traditional Scandinavian cuisine, although it also appears in Inuit foods.17 Indigenous tribes in northern Canada regarded cloudberry as an important dietary component as well.18
Historical documents also revealed that cloudberry was utilized by Norwegian sailors and North American Eskimos to protect against scurvy,19 while its roots and leaves were used for medicinal purposes.20 Meanwhile, in ancient Scandinavian medicine, cloudberry leaves were brewed into tea to help ease urinary tract infections.21
Growing Cloudberry at Home
The cloudberry plant can withstand low temperatures, which is why it thrives best in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions.22 Cloudberry plants can tolerate shade, although they grow best under full sunlight.23 They also prefer soils that are sandy, loamy and clay.24 You can propagate cloudberry from seeds, but make sure to stratify these first for a month at a temperature of 37 degrees F. After stratifying, sow the seeds as early as possible in the year.
When the seedlings grow large enough and can be handled properly, prick and continue growing in a cold frame, then move the plants to their permanent place outdoors in the spring of the following year.25 The cloudberry plant can also be propagated via the roots.26 Cloudberry ripens during late July through early August. Depending where you live, it’s best to gather the berries in mid- to late summer. When ripe, cloudberries are soft and amber-colored with a pink blush. They come off the stem very easily.
You can tell whether a cloudberry is ripe or not is by its firmness. Using three of your fingers, gently squeeze the fruit. A cloudberry isn’t ready to be harvested if it’s either hard, firm, slightly firm or slightly half firm. A cloudberry is ripe if it’s soft and slightly bouncy.27
To harvest cloudberry, gently pull the berry to allow it to break free from the stem. If you end up with half a berry being left on the plant, it might be because the fruit is overripe or because you pulled the berry off the stem with a sloppy side motion, instead of pulling it straight.
Cloudberry should be picked by hand, since these are too delicate to be handled by a picking tool. Avoid using buckets since there’s a tendency for the pile of berries on top to be so heavy that it’ll crush the berries underneath it into juice. Place the berries in a shallow container instead.
After picking, place the fruits gently into the container to retain their shape. Gathering berries in your hand can create pressure and trigger the bottom layer of berries to start leaking juice. At home, avoid washing the berries because they might disintegrate.28
What Are the Qualities of a Good Cloudberry?
For best flavor and keeping quality, cloudberry should be picked at peak ripeness, and must be eaten or preserved on the same day they’re harvested. Be gentle in handling the fruits and move them around as little as possible. Avoid washing them unless they’re dusty. Don’t forget to pick through the berries to remove leaves or debris too.29
After harvesting and cleaning, berries should be refrigerated in a shallow container. An advantage of cloudberry is its naturally high benzoic acid content, allowing the fruits to keep longer than expected without spoiling or fermenting. Afterward, you can use the berries to make cloudberry jam or add it to baked goods.30
Because cloudberry isn’t common in many parts of the world, there isn’t much research focusing on its long-term effects on your health. Plus, cloudberry tends to be very sweet, so if you have pre-existing insulin resistance, you might exacerbate your condition if you eat too many berries.
There is also no significant amount of allergen reporting linked to this fruit. Although cloudberry isn’t known as an allergen, there is a unique combination of nutrients and acids in the fruit that may prompt side effects. As a precaution, consume cloudberry in moderation and see how your body responds to it.
Health Benefits of Cloudberry Seed Oil
Cloudberry seed oil, which is extracted from cloudberry seeds, offers various benefits. It’s abundant in oleic, linoleic and alpha-linolenic acids, vitamin E and plant sterols.31 This oil also contains different antioxidants like carotenoids that may help increase protection against UV rays, and plant compounds called phytosterols that may help strengthen cell membranes.32
Unfortunately, there isn’t enough research yet discussing the long-term side effects of cloudberry seed oil. Talk to a physician or a trusted health expert first and do a skin patch test prior to using this essential oil to see how your skin will react to it.