The Cowberry

The cowberry is common across the entire boreal zone. Its distribution range is circumpolar throughout the northern hemisphere and it is the most common vascular plant in Finland’s forests. It is most closely associated with light pine forest, but it can also grow in shady places. It has a leathery leaf and is an evergreen shrub that spreads out across the ground.

The cowberry

It blossoms in June roughly two weeks after bilberry, so it usually did not suffer from spring frosts. It is insect-pollinated and bees happily visit its with flowers. The cowberry’s harvest varies from year to year. Commercially, 1000 to 20000 tons are collected every year. Approximately 330 kg/ha has been estimated to be the average crop in central Finland. The best cowberries are usually obtained from where the shrubbery is low and sparse. Such cowberries are found in boreal pine forest with lichens, on the edges of woodland and the warm slopes of ridges. The ridge area is excellent for cowberries, but even here the expiry of once typical forests has weakened the harvest.

Cowberry is very versatile and can be made into drinks, jam, jellies and sauces. It can also be added to bread and dried for all types of food. It is also an old medicinal plant used for making herbal teas, which is recommended for urinary tract infections, rheumatic diseases and lowering blood sugar levels. However, tea should not be used too often or too large amounts because the leaves contain harmful toxic compounds for humans and the over consumption of cowberry tea has caused illness.

Although it is still the most common vascular plant in Finland’s forests, its average coverage has decreased by over half in 40 years. The efficiency of forestry, which aims to accelerate the growth cycle of trees, is disadvantageous for the species since the species is most abundant in old naturally light forests. Modern forests are being harvested much earlier than before so cowberry numbers are declining all the time.