Blueberries have a velvety, deep-blue color so it’s not surprising they are called blueberries but they are also known by other names: bilberries, whortleberries and hurtleberries. These delicious berries are native to North America, and in the early years, Native Americans used not only the berries, but the leaves and roots for medicinal purposes. It was an ingredient they also used in dyeing fabric. They are easily confused with huckleberries (which we’ll look at later on).
Blueberries burst with flavor—from mildly sweet to tart and tangy. The shrub they grow on also belongs to the family that includes the cranberry, bilberry, azaleas, mountain laurel, and rhododendron. Blueberries grow in clusters, reminding one of bursting stars, with each cluster ranging in size from that of a small pea to a marble. They have a white-gray “waxy” bloom that protects the surface, and the skin surrounds semi-transparent flesh that encase tiny seeds.
Blueberries were picked by hand until Abijah Tabbutt invented the blueberry rake in 1822, and it’s the official state fruit of Maine.
North America is the world’s leading blueberry producer—from which nearly 90% of the world’s production comes. The prime season for blueberries is during the summer months but the harvest time is from mid-April through early October peaking in July, but they are available year-round in frozen form. July is also known as National Blueberry Month in the United States.
Not surprising that blueberries rank as the number one fruit provider of antioxidants, and are also high in iron.
Native Americans also used blueberries as well as blackberries to make sautauthig, a beef jerky, combining meat with dried blueberries or blackberries. As with other berry types, Native Americans used the juice in treating coughs, and the leaves and roots of the blueberry plant were used for other medicinal purposes as we saw with the blackberry. A beverage made with blueberries became a staple during the Civil War when soldiers did not have other food staples available. In the 1800’s a blueberry canning industry started in the Northeast United States and consumption and enjoyment of blueberries increased here and abroad, especially during World War II.
Blueberries contain many healthy vitamins, minerals, and other elements we need for a heart-healthy diet; and they are actually rated second, behind strawberries, in popularity. They’re good for you, so enjoy them often!