The Blueberry: Health Benefits, Uses, and Storage
The blueberry is commonly referred to as a super food. Some nutritionists go as far as saying that if you are going to make one change to your diet it should be to add blueberries.
They contain the same amount of antioxidants as 5 whole servings of other fruits and vegetables.
This article takes a look at what the antioxidants in blueberries do for the human body, how we can use them fresh and frozen, as well as how to properly store them to keep them at their peak of flavor.
Facts about Blueberries:
Blueberries are one of the few fruits native to North America, and a significant amount of their berry production in the United States comes from Maine and Michigan.
There are two common varieties sold commercially the smaller variety "lowbush" (wild) variety and the larger "highbush" variety.
- Size: Blueberries are a perennial flowering plant that vary in size from 4 inches up to 13 feet. These plants usually bear their fruits during the middle of their growing season, however local conditions will effect the fruiting times. This meaning that some bush varieties can fruit from May to August, depending on their region.
- Popularity: The blueberry is one of the most popular berries in America falling second after the strawberry. The most popular muffin in America is of course, blueberry.
- Color: They are one of the only natural foods that are truly blue in color.
- Also known as: "star berries" by the Native American's as the shape left by the flower created a star like pattern.
Blueberries are some of the easiest fruits to grow in my opinion. They are very picky about the soil and require acidic soil that is high in organic matter and well drained, however these soil conditions are easy to manipulate if you are willing to put in the time. These plants also do very well in pots which makes manipulating the soil so much easier.
Today there are several varieties which make it easier to grow them all over the world. The hybrid varieties have qualities of both the high and low bush varieties which result in a more versatile and accepting plant.
Most blueberry varieties are self fertilizing, however your crop will be larger and of better quality if you choose at least 2 different varieties. Different varieties encourages cross pollination resulting in larger, juicier, and more tasty berries. You can also lengthen your growing season by picking varieties that have different growing seasons. As long as your varieties share at least one or two months, they will cross pollinate and give you a much larger yield.
Before purchasing blueberry bushes be sure to find a reputable place and ensure that you are getting plants that are 1-2 years old. You want to make sure your plants are roughly this old, because it is recommend to not allow the plant to bear fruit for the first few years. By pinching back or pruning the blossoms you can encourage and stimulate new growth while allowing the plant to mature.
If you need help finding a reputable nursery I would highly recommend checking out www.americanmeadows.com. They are a great website that sells 1-2 year old plants and will guarantee your satisfaction. The plants are also guaranteed for a full year, so if one happens to die or you are simply not happy with teh purchase they will give you your money back, in-house credit, or a new plant to replace your old one. I buy all of my fruits, vegetables, and flowers from this site and absolutely wouldn't think to go anywhere else. They sell several varieties and you can find the best ones for your region, through their US hardiness zone link. They also include information about how to best use the different varieties they sell. This comes in handy, because some varities are sweeter and other varieties are more tart making them perfect for baking and pies.
Caring for Blueberries:
- Blueberries have a shallow root system and benefit from mulching. Mulching should be done at the time of planting and be about 2 to 4 inches deep.
- Water is also a very important part of caring for these plants. These plants need about 2 inches of water per week to keep their shallow roots healthy.
- Fertilizing should be done about a month after the bushes are potted. If you are putting them straight in the ground it is recommended to mix fertilizer with the ground soil right away to ensure that you are creating the right pH and acidity for your plants.
- Before your plant bears fruit it is not necessary to prune them. After roughly 4 years or after the first growing season you will want to prune the plants in late winter to encourage new growth for the season's new berries.
*Note: You will want to only prune half or a third of all your low-bush plants at one time. After pruning your plant will not grow berries on those shoots that growing season.
It has taken many years, however the long wait for your first harvest is well worth it and finally over. As a general rule, most plants will be ready for harvesting from July to August. The key to harvesting blueberries is to be patient. Once the berries start turning blue let them sit for a few more days before picking. When the berries are ripe they should fall right off into your hand with a slight twist or pull. If they don't, they are not quite ready to be harvested.
After about 6 years your plants will have reached their full potential, meaning they will continue to produce a harvest of that size for the next 10 to 14 years! That's right, blueberry plants can produce fruit for up to 20 years and beyond when cared for properly. All that patience does pay off in the end!
Blueberries are some of the easiest fruits to freeze, so if you find yourself with too many continue reading below and find out how to properly store your fruit to maintain its freshness.
Health Benefits of Blueberries:
There are many advantages of adding blueberries to your diet. They are known to be rich in vitamins and minerals as well as having a wide array of other health benefits. Among having one of the richest sources of antioxidants, they are known to help with the following health issues.
- They are rich in dietery fiber, phytochemicals, and other nutrients that reduce the risk of certain cancers.
- They are known to not only slow aging, but actually have the potential to reverse certain signs of aging. (http://www.allinonebottle.net/Ingredients/Blueberries.pdf)
- It has been shown that blueberries help protect the retina from sunlight and unwanted oxygen damage.
- They have many cognitive benefits including an improvement in memory.
- When eaten regularly they help fight urinary tract infections, diarrhea, and constipation.
With roughly 80 calories per cup and nearly no fat, blueberries offer some noteworthy nutritional benefits.
If you are interested in other health benefits, be sure to check out this link from the American Institute for Cancer Research.
Nutrition Information for 1 cup of Blueberries
Percent of Daily Requirement
Builds bones and protects the heart
Maintain healthy gums
Heart healthy and lower cholesterol
Uses of Blueberries:
Fresh and frozen berries can be used in a variety of recipes. The great thing about frozen blueberries is that, although the fruit is frozen the berry does not lose its nutrients. Of course however, they are best enjoyed in their raw form.
Best uses for fresh:
- Muffins, pancakes, and pies: When making muffins and pancakes coating your blueberries in a little flour will keep them from sinking to the bottom.
- Added to yogurt or cereal
- Sauce: Perfect for pouring over cheesecakes, ice cream, and other various desserts. Blueberry sauces are also a great addition to turkey and chicken dishes as well.
Best uses for frozen:
- Flavoring Drinks: Frozen fruits added to a pitcher of juice adds an extra flavor. Frozen fruits work well for this because when they thaw the fruit's flavor spreads faster and over a wider area.
- Snacking: Your fingers might start turning blue, however eating a bowl of frozen berries makes a sweet and yummy treat.
- Baking: Many might not like the texture of thawed frozen fruits and a great way to get around this is to put your frozen fruits into baked desserts.
These are just some of my favorite ways to use blueberries. Check out the recipe below for a delicious blueberry smoothie.
This simple yet delicious smoothie is perfect for a pick me up breakfast, mid-day snack, or anytime. With only 3 ingredients and 10 minutes of your time, you can have a perfect smoothie.
- 1 cup Milk
- 1/3 cup Yogurt (I prefer Strawberry yogurt from Yoplait)
- 1 heaping cup Frozen Blueberries
Making the Smoothie:
- Put all ingredients into a blender
- Pulse until all ingredients are mixed together
- Pour smoothie into your desired glass or cup and enjoy!
Yields: 1 delicious smoothie
There are a few ways to store blueberries, however if you want the best taste from your berries these tips will give you just that.
- Don't wash before storing.
- Keep them in a refrigerator or freeze them to keep them from ripening and getting soft.
- Put fresh berries in a bowl or on a cookie sheet and cover with plastic wrap to keep them fresher longer.
- When freezing put them in a freezer bag leaving extra space and seal tight.
*Note: If you have the space I highly recommend freezing them on a cookie sheet or other flat surface first before putting them in freezer bags. Simply putting them in freezer bags could result in them getting squished and frozen together in one big glob. Freezing them first on a sheet tray allows them to freeze without sticking together. You can then transfer cups of them into individual bags and they will not become big blocks of frozen blueberries.
Storing your blueberries properly will ensure that you get the full life and best flavor every time.
Blueberries are a fruit that we can enjoy year round. From the great health benefits to the never ending uses, consuming blueberries is a great way to eat healthy and happily. Next time you're looking for a snack grab a handful and enjoy.
© 2012 Cholee Clay