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All About Blueberries

Jul 1, 2024 | Fun Food Facts, Just for fun! | 0 comments

By Jade Greene

These delicious berries are packed with flavor and nutrition, they also have an interesting and regional history! Let’s ask blueberry some questions to learn more.

 

Q: Hi Blueberry! Glad you are here!

Oh so happy to be here, right on time for my season. It’s so nice to be here in Bucks County, you are near where I was originally domesticated only a few years ago, plus I just love growing here – wild or cultivated. This area has the perfect climate for me!

 

Q: A few years ago? When were you domesticated? 

Well, a few years ago in plant terms, we plants think about time differently than you fast-paced humans. It surprises people to learn that the blueberry wasn’t domesticated until the 1910s! While many crops have been cultivated for 1,000s of years (corn, pumpkin, asparagus), it took a while before people attempted to tame me. Until that point, people were happy to eat my teeny pea-sized fruit. The first people to try in earnest was Elizabeth White, a self-taught scientist, with the encouragement of USDA researcher, Dr. Frederick Coville in 1910.

Elizabeth White 

Elizabeth grew up on a cranberry farm in the Pine Barrens and fondly remembers eating wild blueberries as a child. She figured if she paid people to pick the biggest blueberries, she could take those seeds and grow plants with bigger fruit. And my goodness it worked! She transplanted and cloned the biggest berry bushes in her garden. Together with Coville, they ended up creating a number of varieties of tasty, big and light-blue colored blueberries that we know today! In only 6 years, they had done it!

 

If you can, try to find ‘Rubel’ blueberry variety, named after Rube Leek, the man who found the best berries for Elizabeth. This variety has the best nutrition.

 

Q: Wow, that is an amazing story! Different varieties of blueberries have different nutritive qualities?

Yes… Unfortunately, as my berries were selected for size and color (preference on light blue), a lot of my phytonutrients and antioxidants were lost in this process. The Rubel variety, cultivated by Elizabeth, has never been crossed with other strains so retains more of the healthful qualities of wild berries. Although you can’t usually find Rubel at the supermarket, local farms still grow them and plant nurseries have them available for home gardens!

f you can’t find Rubel, I am still a superfood. Studies have shown I can help lower blood pressure, prevent heart disease, improve memory, and more! I am loaded with fiber, Vitamin C, K, and manganese. Even though my domesticated varieties have a decreased amount, it is believed I have the most antioxidants of all the common fruits and vegetables.

 

Another interesting fact is that cooking makes my nutrients more bioavailable and therefore even healthier! So start making all the blueberry pies, muffins, jams, syrups!

Cooking blueberries enhances their nutrition, photo from Sally’s Baking Addiction

Q: Yum! Besides nutrition, how has domestication changed you?

This makes me sad, yes. You have probably heard of the EWG’s Dirty Dozen list, I am always on it. Conventionally grown (non-organic) blueberries are heavily sprayed with pesticides and fungicides. These harmful chemicals impact human health and also kill pollinators, like bees. Organic, local and wild is best, if that is an option for your family

 

Q: That is sad. Can I grow you in my yard?

Absolutely, I do great in backyards in Bucks County. Some people even use me as an ornamental plant in their landscapes as I look beautiful year round!

 

I am truly a beneficial plant to add to your yard as I am a native plant that hosts over 30 species of birds, native pollinators including bumblebees, mason bees, butterflies, and honeybees! I’m a boon to all!

 

I do love full sun and well-drained acidic soil, so I may not fit into every garden. Penn State Master Gardeners of Bucks County recommends doing soil tests and using elemental sulfur to reduce your soil’s pH. It may take 2-3 years before we will bear fruit, so be patient, you fast-paced human!

Q: How are the wild berries doing?

Oh the wild ones are thriving! Wild blueberries are ‘lowland’ varieties and are a delight for wildlife this time of year – bears, birds, raccoons – everyone loves me! If you take a walk in the Pine Barrens or Poconos, you are sure to see tons of me ripening on your trip – ready for all life to enjoy.

I have always been a favorite food for the Indigenous People of this region and all the way into Canada too. Some call me “star fruits” because of the five-pointed shape formed at the end of each berry, so cute!

Five-pointed shape at each berry led to them being called “star fruits” by some Indigenous peoples.

Q: Well thank you very much for chatting!

It’s been berry fun! Find me at your local farmers market, pick-your-own, or even plant me in your yard! 

 

Additional Sources:

Eating on the Wild Side, Robinson

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