Last week I mentioned how blackberries really aren’t berries at all. I know the botanical definition is not important, but for the record blueberries are true berries.
Eastern North Carolina is not famous for its wild blueberries, but they can be found in good numbers. The high bush blueberry (Vacciniun corymbosum) prefers moist but well drained sandy acid soil. They also yield best in full sun. Look for them on the edges of swamps.
These shrubs can grow twelve feet tall. The fruits aren’t as large or prolific around here as the cultivated rabbiteye types. They are still well worth your effort if you can beat the birds and other wildlife to them.
Southern or rabbiteye blueberries, (Vaccinium ashei), are far superior for those wanting to grow them in their backyard. However, if your property borders a swampy area and the native ones are present, encourage them. They make beautiful tasty natural landscaping.
Bushes have the same general form as azaleas. Dark glossy green smooth edged leaves are up to two inches long. Fall foliage is red. Clusters of flowers in spring are white, and fruits usually ripen in mid to late June. They are bluish to nearly black.
Fruits with dark bright colors are generally high in antioxidants and the blueberry is no exception. Blueberries contain more compounds to fight free radicals than any other fruit. They are real immune system boosters.
Blueberries contain chemicals collectively called polyphenolic anthocyanidins. These chemicals help protect the body from cancers, aging, and infections. Some research also indicates blood sugar levels can be lowered by them. This could be a benefit for Type-II diabetics.
A cup of blueberries contains only 57 calories. For that paltry amount you also receive about 25 percent of your daily vitamin C requirement. Blueberries are also high in fiber. A diet high in fiber contributes to heart health, helping to keep cholesterol in check.
These fruits also have amazing culinary versatility. Pies and cobblers, cakes, muffins doughnuts, and pancakes await their insertion, so don’t be shy.
Blueberries can add flavor and color to many desserts. I like to fold in a cup or two into a batch of cornbread. It’s a great change of pace.
My favorite way to eat them is simply pouring them into a bowl with a little half and half. That way I can rationalize by saying that the fiber, polyphenols, and manganese offset the cholesterol from the cream.
If you wish to make jams or jellies from your harvest beware that blueberries don’t contain high levels of pectin. That means that you will have to add extra to get them to set properly. Otherwise, your preserves will be runny.
While not common, blueberry allergy symptoms are mouth swelling and redness of lips and tongue, eczema, hives, headache, runny nose, watery eyes and gastrointestinal problems.
Those on blood thinners might curb blueberry intake somewhat. They are high in vitamin K, which can counter the effect of the medicine. I doubt small amounts would pose any problem, but it is always best to consult your doctor.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School. (firstname.lastname@example.org)