(black crowberry)Select an option below for more information on this species
Empetrum nigrum occurs from 0-1900 m in North America. It is known from 156-1533 m in Denali and at an average of 757 m. It has the greatest cover in measured plots at 500-1100 m, increasing in frequency from 300 m to 1100 m. Approximately one-half (49%) of the 1753 measured occurrences are on slopes less than 5 degrees, the remaining are distributed almost equally between north and south facing slopes. Altitudinal distributions are similar for occurrences on both north and south facing slopes, as is the preference for altitudes 800-1100 m. The range of inclines (5-45 degrees) and majority of occurrences (10-20 degrees) is similar for north and south facing slopes. Black crowberry has the least amount of cover in plots with slopes greater than 28 degrees, decreasing in frequency with increasing inclination.
Details are shown in the Plots & Charts found at right. For more on how to interpret these figures, visit Understanding Data Presented.
Empetrum nigrum is a circumpolar species. Crowberry occurs in Europe, Iceland, east to Siberia and Bulgaria, and in North America (Alaska, British Columbia, Yukon Territory, Northwest Territory, east to Newfoundland, south to New York, Minnesota and coastal northern California). The form with unisexual flowers and dioecious plants, Empetrum nigrum subsp. nigrum, occurs coastally in Alaska, whereas the form with bisexual flowers and monoecious plants E. nigrum subsp. hermaphroditum is more common in the interior especially with increasing elevation and latitude. Black crowberry is common and widespread throughout Denali on both sides of the Alaska Range crest.
Details are shown in the Plots & Charts found at right, depicting recent Denali data.
Black crowberry has been used as a food, dye plant, and medicinal. The berries, although not tasty when fresh, improve with cooking or preservation. The berries may have been an important survival food, especially when other berries were scare, since it is common in many plant communities, the berries form early, last throughout the winter, and preserve well. The Yup'ik commonly use these berries in akutaq ('Eskimo icecream'). Berries are also used as a dye for grass baskets (Jernigan et al. 2015). Recent research supports the use as a nutritive survival food. The berries contain glucose, fructose, inositol, galactose, and 33 different volatile compounds, 15 similar to those found in other blueberries (Kallio et al. 1984, Puntari et al. 1985, in Aiken et al. 2003). Thirteen anthocyanins have been identified in the berries, similar to those found in bilberry and blueberry (Ogawa 2008).
All parts of the plant have been used in traditional remedies, described in Moerman 1998, Garibaldi 1999, Foster and Hobbs 2002, Russell-Kari 1995, and Schofield 1989. The Inupiat and Athabascans of Alaska used the juice of the berries or a decoction of the stem bark to aid in the removal of cataracts and to relieve the pain of snow-blindness. The Athabascans made a decoction of the stem bark to treat upper respiratory conditions (colds, flu, cough, and chest congestion) and the Haida people of British Columbia used the same decoction to treat tuberculosis. The stem bark or cooked berries were used by the Athabascans to treat diarrhea, whereas the leaves with or without the berries were used as a laxative by the Haida, and a decoction of the green leaves was used as a purgative by the Bella Coola.