- There are two kinds of blueberries: Wild and cultivated.
- Wild or low bush blueberries are native to North America and have grown naturally for thousands of years. The bushes are low to the ground and spread from underground runners or rhizomes. They’re harvested with special wild blueberry rakes.
- Cultivated blueberries grow on high bushes that have to be planted. They can grow as tall as 12 feet. The berries tend to be bigger than wild blueberries and are picked, not raked. The first crop of cultivated blueberries was harvested in 1916. It was developed by Elizabeth White, a New Jersey farmer’s daughter and Frederick Colville, a botanist with the US Department of Agriculture.
- The United States produces more blueberries (both kinds) than any other country in the world.
- Michigan produces the most cultivated blueberries
- Maine produces the most wild blueberries.
Oh, so healthy!
Both kinds of blueberries pack a wallop when it comes to health benefits, but research shows that wild blueberries have an edge. According to the USDA, “Blueberries are an excellent source of essential nutrients, such as vitamins C and K and manganese, and a good source of dietary fiber. In addition, blueberries are abundant [in] phyto-components, such as flavonoids, which are responsible for berries’ antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities.
“Wild blueberries are rich in antioxidants. One serving of wild blueberries has more total antioxidant capacity than one serving of cranberries, strawberries, plums or others. Oxidative stress is linked to aging, heart diseases, and cancer.”
“Once people see how small wild blueberries are, the fact that they contain lots of nutrients and natural beneficial compounds makes more sense,” says Kitty Broihier, a registered dietitian and nutrition advisor to the Wild Blueberry Association of North America. “It’s like all their good qualities are concentrated into the tiny berries. Of course, wild blueberries also have a more concentrated blueberry taste, too.
“For 80 calories a cup, you get roughly twice the number of berries, compared with larger cultivated blueberries, so you get about twice the fiber as well—actually 25% of the Daily Value for fiber. You also get 200% of the Daily Value for manganese. Beyond nutrients, however, wild blueberries are associated with benefits in the areas of cardiovascular health, brain health and aging, gut health, and diabetes and metabolic syndrome. There’s a lot to say nutritionally about Maine’s state berries!”
A little bit of history
The history of the wild blueberry in North America is pretty interesting. Not only did Native Americans eat them for sustenance they also used them for healing and believed that wild blueberries had magical powers. During the Civil War, blueberries helped feed Union soldiers.
In 1990, the wild blueberry was named the official Maine state berry — by someone I know! Megan Frank, of Manchester, Maine was in the fifth grade when she wrote a letter to her state legislator with the suggestion. Megan is now a mother. Next time I see her, I’ll find out if wild blueberries are part of her baby’s diet. Bet they are!
The Wild Blueberry Association of North America has a short video on the history of wild blueberries in Maine. It’s worth watching.
Where to pick blueberries in Maine
If you’d like to pick some blueberries and they don’t happen to be growing in your own backyard, I’ve compiled an extensive list of farms in Maine that let you pick your own blueberries. Most are highbush, but there are some wild, low bush farms on the list. I’ve tried my best to indicate a farm’s pesticide practice and whether or not they’re organic. The list also includes an explanation of integrated pest management and a link to a blog post about eating fresh produce safely.
Blueberry season usually goes from late July into September. During that time, you’ll find them by the pint in various grocery stores and farmers markets. Wild blueberry growers usually freeze most of their berries immediately after they’re harvested so they’re available in many stores year round.
In case you didn’t know, the way to tell the difference between wild and cultivated berries is the wild berries are smaller — about the size of a pearl.
If you’re looking for something quick and tasty to make (that is if you haven’t eaten them all) with your blueberries, here’s a smoothie recipe courtesy of the Wild Blueberry Association. It comes from Registered Dietitian Kara Lydon, the voice behind the food and healthy living blogThe Foodie Dietitian. You’ll find tons of delicious recipes and everything you might ever want to know about wild blueberries on the Wild Blueberry Association’s website.
- 1 cup frozen Wild Blueberries
- ½ cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt
- ½ avocado
- ½ cup packed spinach
- 1 tablespoon lime juice (from one lime)
- 2 teaspoons lime zest (from one lime)
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest (from one lemon)
- 2 tablespoons basil (approximately 7 leaves)
- 2 ice cubes
- 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk beverage
- Blend all ingredients together until smooth and creamy.
- Divide into two glasses.
- Serve immediately.
- To make a layered smoothie:
- Blend avocado, spinach, lime juice and zest, lemon zest, basil, ice cubes and ½ cup coconut milk until smooth and creamy.
- Pour green smoothie layer into two glasses.
- Then blend Wild Blueberries, yogurt and ½ cup coconut milk until smooth and creamy.
- Pour into glasses over green layer.
- Serve immediately.