Blueberry

The blueberry epidemic began to sweep the nation in the early 20th century from a simple pique of interest. Nowadays, the fruit is used for many culinary and medicinal purposes.

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)Blueberry
  • Scientific nameVaccinium corymbosum
  • Plant typeShrub
  • Native regionNorth America
  • Main producer(s)Canada, Chile, United States of America
  • Main Economic UseCosmetics, Culinary
  • Plant Life CyclePerennial
  • Food GroupFruits and Vegetables
  • Main Consumed PartFruit
  • OLD Main Economic UseAlimentary
  • Native RegionNorthern Hemisphere
  • Growing HabitatCool Temperate Regions
Blueberry

In the early 1900's, the daughter of a cranberry farmer teamed up with a botanist after she found out he was searching for an ideal wild plant for breeding. This began the subsequent blueberry epidemic that has swept North America. Since then, studies have continued to uncover this fruit's health benefits on and off the table.

Medicinal and Nutritional Information

Quick Facts (Medicinal and Nutritional Information)
  • Medicinal actionAntibacterial, Antioxidant
  • Key constituentsAnthocyanins, antioxidants
  • Ways to useCapsules, Hot infusions/tisanes, Liquid extracts, Food, Juiced, Ointment, Syrup, Essential oil, Dried
  • Medicinal rating(4) Very useful plant
  • Safety rankingSafe

Health Benefits of Blueberry

Throughout the years, blueberries have been widely consumed for their nutritional benefits. Some of the many attributes that blueberries are praised for include being high in antioxidants; fiber; vitamins C, A, B complex, and E; potassium; and manganese. The combination of these vitamins and minerals within the fruit also allows blueberries to be used for an assortment of medicinal purposes, including:

  • Improving eye health. Blueberries can enhance ocular health, helping prevent glaucoma and cataracts, and have also been shown to be effective for treating corneal ulcers.

  • Fighting against infections. Blueberries help inhibit the growth of bacteria along the lining of the inner walls of the urinary tract, thus preventing UTIs.

  • Enhancing bowel movements. The high fiber in blueberries gives them laxative properties that help regulate gastrointestinal functions.

Blueberries are also used as anti-aging remedies due to the high number of antioxidants present within these fruits.

How It Works

There are many compounds within blueberries that contribute to improving the body's overall health. Blueberries are one of the highest-ranked fruits for antioxidants due to the presence of a type of flavonoids called anthocyanins, which are also responsible for the fruit's dark blue color.

The high antioxidant content of blueberries contributes many health benefits, such as boosting the production of cytokines, which are small proteins that interact with other cells and help regulate immune responses, promote anti-inflammatory activity, and strengthen cell membranes, among other important functions.

Blueberries, as much as cranberries, are great for treating and preventing urinary tract infections. Though its clinical effects on UTIs have not been fully investigated, its antioxidant compounds have been found to have an antibacterial action, blocking the adhesion of E. coli to the walls of the urinary tract. Moreover, pterostilbene, another antioxidant compound contained in blueberries, has been shown to be just as effective in lowering cholesterol as commercial drugs. 

BLUEBERRIES ARE ONE OF THE HIGHEST-RANKED FRUITS FOR

ANTIOXIDANTS.

Cleavers, myrtle, and neem also possess antibacterial properties, while cacao and carrot can be used as alternative sources for antioxidant benefits as well.

Blueberry Side Effects

It is safe to consume antioxidant-rich fruits such as blueberries in recommended amounts. With a balanced diet that includes five daily servings of fruits and vegetables, intoxication through food is more difficult to achieve than it is through supplements. However, consuming blueberries in excess can cause stress in the body and negatively affect its capacity to detoxify or repair itself.

OVERCONSUMPTION OF ANTIOXIDANTS SUPPRESSES THE BODY'S

ABILITY TO FUNCTION PROPERLY.

Blueberry Cautions

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should only eat recommended amounts of any food high in antioxidants, such as blueberries.

Since blueberries may lower blood sugar levels, diabetics taking medications and those who need a consistent blood sugar level before certain medical procedures should reduce their consumption of these fruits. It is recommended for patients to stop consuming blueberry products at least two weeks before a scheduled surgery.

How to Consume Blueberry

Quick Facts (How to Consume)
  • Edible partsFruit
  • Edible usesCondiment, Beverage
  • TasteSweet, Tart
Blueberry Foods

The most effective way of obtaining the health benefits from blueberries is by eating them raw due to their high vitamin and mineral content. However, for medicinal purposes, the properties of blueberries can be taken in concentrated forms, in a variety of preparations.

Remedies

Main preparations: Tea, extract, oil, cream, ointments, capsules

  • Tea. Blueberry tea is often made from the leaves and is used to alleviate sore throats and swelling or inflammation of the mouth.

  • Extract. An extract made from blueberry leaves is believed to aid in reducing blood sugar levels.

  • Oil. Blueberry seed oil carries the antioxidant action of the fresh blueberries, and it is considered a great soothing and anti-aging preparation for the skin. Several online companies offer the seed oil for topical use.

  • Cream and ointments. Various forms of blueberries have been added to cosmetics, skin care ointments, and facial creams for anti-aging benefits.

  • Capsules. Discuss the possibility of consuming blueberry capsules with a trusted medical professional before beginning a supplement plan. These pills are standardized for their contents, and there is no general recommended dosage. They are thought to lower blood pressure levels, fight against inflammation, and reduce cholesterol levels.

Food

Main ways: Fresh, dried, leaves, frozen, jam, marmalade, syrup, preserves, juice

  • Fresh blueberries. Fresh North American blueberries can be found in the summer, and blueberries are imported from South America during North America's winter months. Eating them raw offers consumers high amounts of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

  • Dried fruit and blueberry leaves. Both dried blueberry fruit and dried blueberries leaves share astringent properties and are used to treat diarrhea. It is also thought that the blueberry leaves contain astringent tannins that help to soothe sore throats. None of these traditional claims have been medically validated.

  • Frozen blueberries. Freezing fresh blueberries provides a quick option for preservation. Wash the berries, allow them to dry, and then lay them out on a baking sheet and place them in the freezer. Once firmly frozen, it is safe to move them to a bag or airtight container.

  • Jam, marmalade, syrup, and preserves. Aside from freezing blueberries to keep them year round, they are also used as the principle ingredient in many condiments. 

  • Blueberry juice. Juice has been added to many cosmetic products to rejuvenate the skin thanks to the fruit's antioxidant benefits. Health providers have also used this liquid for MRI imaging as an oral contrast agent due to its high manganese concentration.

Buying

Quick Facts (Buying)
  • Where to buySupermarkets, Farmers' markets, Organic markets, Online health stores

In-season, fresh blueberries in North America are widely available during the summer months, through August or September. South American blueberries are imported the rest of the year.

All blueberries are simple to purchase in most grocery stores and supermarkets, as well as farmers' markets during the summertime.

Frozen blueberries, juices, teas, and other blueberry products can be found year round in the same stores or for online purchase.

MANY SOUTH AMERICAN COUNTRIES EXPORT BLUEBERRIES TO NORTH

AMERICA DURING THE WINTER MONTHS, MAKING FRESH BLUEBERRIES

AVAILABLE YEAR ROUND.

Growing

Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Life cycleAnnual
  • Harvested partsLeaves, Fruit
  • Light requirementsFull sun, Partial shade
  • SoilWell-drained
  • Soil pH3.5 – 4.4 (Extremely acidic), 4.5 – 5.0 (Very strongly acidic)
  • Growing habitatWarm climates
  • Planting timeEarly spring
  • Plant spacing average1 m (3.28 ft)
  • Propagation techniquesCuttings
  • Potential insect pestsCaterpillars, Japanese beetles
  • Potential diseasesRoot rot
  • Potential animal pestsBirds

Growing blueberry shrubs requires very specific conditions. They grow best in acidic soils and with full sun, sometimes partial shade. However, full sun translates into more blooms and, consequently, more fruit.

Growing Guidelines

  • Blueberry shrubs are often found growing in or near swampy areas, as they require a lot of water.

  • In order to thrive, blueberries require cool weather. They are able to withstand temperatures of -5 to -13°F (-20 to -25°C ) without damage.

  • Blueberries grow best in acidic soil (pH levels of 4.0 - 5.0) that is loose, well-drained, and high in organic matter.  

  • The best time to plant blueberries in North America is in late April or early May, and harvest falls from late July to mid-August.

  • For standard shrubs, space blueberries at least three feet (1 m) apart from each other, depending on the specific cultivar.  

  • Blueberry plants grow slowly. It takes 8 - 10 years for them to reach mature size; however, they will begin to bear fruit after two to three years and better yields after five years

  • Blueberries can be propagated in a variety of ways, but softwood or hardwood cuttings are the most common techniques. For home gardeners, a good option is to buy seedlings from a local nursery or garden center

  • Some common insect pests of blueberries are spotted wing drosophila, Japanese beetles, leaf rollers, and forest tent caterpillars. Also, common diseases include canker, armillaria root rot, and ringspot viruses.

Detailed information about growing blueberries can be found in the herb garden section.

Additional Information

Quick Facts (Additional Information)
  • Other usesCosmetics

Plant Biology

Blueberry is a deciduous shrubs native to the eastern United States, with branching that extends upright, and it can reach up 6 - 12 feet (1.8 - 3.7 m) tall with an equal width. Blueberry flowers are white to very light pink and bloom in clusters in May. The older stems of the shrub are colored gray-brown with newer ones a yellow-green to reddish color in the winter.

  • Classification

    Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) is a member of the Ericaceae or heath family, which comprises over 100 genera and more than 3,000 species worldwide. This large group is composed by woody shrubs with dark green leaves, bell shaped flowers and multi-seeded berries.

    The genus Vaccinium is represented by over 400 species, including bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus),  Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos), hucklberry (Vaccinium membranaceum), and lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea).

  • Cultivars of Blueberry

    Many cultivars of blueberries have been selected based on their growth habits and fruit traits. Some of the more common cultivars in North America include the 'Bluecrop', 'Blueray', 'Jersey', 'North Blue', 'Sunshine Blue', 'Rubel', and 'Patriot'.

Historical Information

Before the blueberry boom happened, Native Americans used these dynamic berries for medicinal purposes and natural flavoring. It wasn't until the early 1900's when the American botanist Frederick Coville partnered with Elizabeth White, a recognized authority on native plants from New Jersey, to grow the first successful field of blueberries. In 1916, the blueberries began their journey to the table, when the highbush species was first sold.

Blueberries continue to be celebrated as a cultural phenomenon, with July named as National Blueberry Month by the USDA in 1974. The research on blueberries' antioxidants began in the 1990's and continues to this day.

Economic Data

The United States continues to be the world's largest producer of blueberries, in which 14 states produce the antioxidant-rich berries. In 2014, the United States produced and used 563.2 million pounds (255.5 million kg) of cultivated blueberries and exported 79 million pounds (36 million kg) of the fresh fruit to Canada, Japan, and other countries.

The United States is also a net importer of blueberries, a large majority of which comes from Chile during the winter, while Canada provides almost a fifth of the fresh blueberries coming into the U.S. as well.

Other Uses

Aside from being used for medicinal and nutritive purposes, blueberry shrubs are also used ornamentally for hedge borders and wind blocks.

Also, due to blueberries' antioxidant characteristics, their use in personal care products has begun to increase. Blueberries can now be seen as an ingredient in face masks, scrubs, shampoos, and creams.

Overall, blueberries provide consumers a myriad of vitamins and minerals that assist with bodily functions, from improving ocular health to fighting infections and enhancing gastrointestinal movement. This North American fruit can be prepared and consumed in many ways or even used for medicinal purposes. For anyone in the pursuit of healthier options, it may be wise to consider growing or purchasing blueberry products as a viable option toward living a healthier lifestyle.

Bibliography

  • Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Pterostilbene, a New Agonist for the Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptor α-Isoform, Lowers Plasma Lipoproteins and Cholesterol in Hypercholesterolemic Hamsters, 2005
  • Genetic Diversity and Erosion in Plants: Case Histories, p.90
  • Reed College, Ericaceae
  • Disease Prevention and Treatment
  • New Jersey Historical Commission, Elizabeth White and the Blueberry Business
  • The Egyptian Journal of Radiology and Nuclear Medicine, Effectiveness of natural oral contrast agents in magnetic resonance imaging of the bowel, 2015
  • The Southern Region Small Fruit Consortium, Blueberry Propagation Suggestions
  • U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, Blueberry Season | Buying Blueberries | Health research | The Berry Latest
  • University of Minnesota, Extension - Yard and Garden: Blueberries for home landscapes | Extension: Pest management for home blueberry plants
  • Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, Blueberries
  • Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology, Anthocyanins and Human Health: An In Vitro Investigative Approach, 2004
  • University of Connecticut, Vaccinium corymbosum: Highbush Blueberry
  • National Institutes of Health, Blueberry
  • University of Wisconsin, The Highbush Blueberry
  • North Carolina State University, Growing Blueberries in the Home Garden
  • Oregon State University, Blueberries
  • Penn State University, Home Lawn and Garden: Blueberries
  • University of Michigan Health, Blueberry