Grow Healthy, Delicious Blueberries
Produce your own antioxidants with this super fruit.
Ripe, juicy blueberries, ready to eat, are a tasty nutritional powerhouse.
Henry David Thoreau wrote of the blueberry, “They ripen first on the tops of hills, before they who walk in the valleys suspect it. When old folks find only one turned here and there, children, who are best acquainted with the localities of berries, bring pailsful to sell at their doors.”
We didn’t sell blueberries door-to-door when we were youngsters, but my brothers and I certainly found them in the woods and fields while camping in the northern parts of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, and we ate our fair share. Michigan leads the nation in blueberry production, and going blueberry picking was our family’s summer ritual, whether it was the wild, lowbush species we found in the woods, or the cultivated, highbush varieties we picked at the berry farms.
A New World fruit
Native to North America, wild blueberries grow in swamps, low woods and open fields. There are two species of blueberries, the lowbush (Vaccinium angustifolium), and highbush (Vaccinium corymbosum). Lowbush blueberries are small and generally sweeter, but the highbush blueberry is the species that is cultivated and provides the majority of blueberries found in markets.
Long before blueberries were cultivated, they were featured in the culture, cupboards and pharmacies of Native Americans and colonists. Native Americans taught the first settlers in Plymouth how to dry blueberries; they were used in preserves and breads, and the juice was used to dye clothing.
Native Americans called blueberries “star berries,” because the calyx on the blossom end of the berries creates a five-pointed star. They believed star berries held magical powers and were sent by the Great Spirit to feed children during lean times of famine. Early American explorers also found blueberries to be gifts sent from above to stave off starvation. French explorer Samuel de Champlain wrote during his expeditions of the Ottawa River in 1616: “We also found – it was almost as if God had wished to bestow a gift of some sort on this barren and unfriendly country for the succor and support of its people – in season the riverbanks were thick with berries of all sort, including raspberries and blueberries (a small berry but very good to eat). … Without them we might have starved to death.”
Native Americans used blueberries medicinally to cure everything from morning sickness to insanity, and Civil War soldiers drank blueberry juice to protect themselves from scurvy.
Health benefits abound
The “superberry” is an apt name for the blueberry when speaking of its health and nutritional benefits. Blueberries are among the best sources of antioxidants. They offer nutrients such as potassium and iron, and are an excellent source of Vitamin C and dietary fiber. “There ain’t no cure for the summertime blues,” but these blues offer some pretty extensive curative properties.
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