Habitat:The genus Vaccinium has a circumpolar distribution with species in North America, Europe and Asia.
Many commercially sold species whose English common names include “blueberry” are currently classified in section Cyanococcus of the genus Vaccinium and come predominantly from North America. Several other plants of the genus Vaccinium also produce blue berries such as the predominantly European bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), which in many languages has a name that means “blueberry” in English.
Blueberries are flowering plants of the genus Vaccinium with dark-blue, -purple or black berries. Species in the section Cyanococcus are the most common fruits sold as “blueberries” and are mainly native to North America. They are usually erect but sometimes prostrate shrubs varying in size from 10 cm tall to 4 m tall. In commercial blueberry production, smaller species are known as “lowbush blueberries” (synonymous with “wild”), and the larger species as “highbush blueberries”. The leaves can be either deciduous or evergreen, ovate to lanceolate, and from 1–8 cm long and 0.5–3.5 cm broad. The flowers are bell-shaped, white, pale pink or red, sometimes tinged greenish.
The fruit is a false berry 5–16 mm diameter with a flared crown at the end; they are pale greenish at first, then reddish-purple, and finally blue on ripening. They have a sweet taste when mature, with variable acidity. Blueberry bushes typically bear fruit from May through June though fruiting times are affected by local conditions such as altitude and latitude.
The Chippewa Indians used the flowers to treat psychosis. The fruit contains anthocyanosides. These chemical compounds are very powerful antioxidants that are very effective in the prevention of heart disease and cancer.
Vaccinium angustifolium (Lowbush Blueberry)
Vaccinium boreale (Northern Blueberry)
Vaccinium caesariense (New Jersey Blueberry)
Vaccinium corymbosum (Northern Highbush Blueberry)
Vaccinium darrowii (Southern Highbush Blueberry)
Vaccinium elliottii (Elliott Blueberry)
Vaccinium formosum (southern blueberry)
Vaccinium fuscatum (Black Highbush Blueberry; syn. V. atrococcum)
Vaccinium hirsutum (Hairy-fruited Blueberry)
Vaccinium myrtilloides (Canadian Blueberry)
Vaccinium pallidum (Dryland Blueberry)
Vaccinium simulatum (Upland Highbush Blueberry)
Vaccinium tenellum (Southern Blueberry)
Vaccinium virgatum (Rabbiteye Blueberry; syn. V. ashei)
Some other blue-fruited species of Vaccinium:
Vaccinium myrsinites (Evergreen Blueberry)
Vaccinium myrtillus (Bilberry)
Blueberries may be cultivated, or they may be picked from semi-wild or wild bushes. In North America, the most common cultivated species is V. corymbosum, the Northern highbush blueberry. Hybrids of this with other Vaccinium species adapted to southern U.S. climates are known collectively as Southern highbush blueberries.
Blueberry flowersSo-called “wild” (lowbush) blueberries, smaller than cultivated highbush ones, are prized for their intense color. The lowbush blueberry, V. angustifolium, is found from the Atlantic provinces westward to Quebec and southward to Michigan and West Virginia. In some areas, it produces natural blueberry barrens, where it is the dominant species covering large areas. Several First Nations communities in Ontario are involved in harvesting wild blueberries. Lowbush species are fire-tolerant and blueberry production often increases following a forest fire as the plants regenerate rapidly and benefit from removal of competing vegetation. Wild has been adopted as a marketing term for harvests of managed native stands of low-bush blueberries. The bushes are not planted or genetically manipulated, but they are pruned or burned over every two years, and pests are “managed”.
There are numerous highbush cultivars of blueberries, each of which have a unique and diverse flavor. The most important blueberry breeding program has been the USDA-ARS breeding program based at Beltsville, Maryland, and Chatsworth, New Jersey. This program began when Frederick Coville of the USDA-ARS collaborated with Elizabeth Coleman White of New Jersey. In the early part of the 20th Century, White offered wild pickers cash for large-fruited blueberry plants. Rubel, one such wild blueberry cultivar, is the origin of many of the current hybrid cultivars.
Rabbiteye Blueberry (V. virgatum, syn. V. ashei) is a southern type of blueberry produced from the Carolinas to the Gulf Coast states.
Other important species in North America include V. pallidum, the Hillside or Dryland Blueberry. It is native to the eastern U.S., and common in the Appalachians and the Piedmont of the Southeast. Sparkleberry, V. arboreum, is a common wild species on sandy soils in the southeastern U.S. Its fruits are important to wildlife, and the flowers important to beekeepers.
Blueberries are sold fresh or processed as individually quick frozen (IQF) fruit, purée, juice, or dried or infused berries which in turn may be used in a variety of consumer goods such as jellies, jams, pies, muffins, snack foods, and cereals.
Blueberry jam is made from blueberries, sugar, water, and fruit pectin. Premium blueberry jam, usually made from wild blueberries, is common in Maine, Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia.
Nutrients and phytochemicals:
Blueberries have a diverse range of micronutrients, with notably high levels (relative to respective Dietary Reference Intakes) of the essential dietary mineral manganese, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin K and dietary fiber (table). One serving provides a relatively low glycemic load score of 4 out of 100 per day.
Especially in wild species, blueberries contain anthocyanins, other antioxidant pigments and various phytochemicals possibly having a role in reducing risks of some diseases, including inflammation and certain cancers.
Blueberries have become highly popularized by their new-found medicinal properties. However, this native American fruit has been in use for thousands of years as part of the native Indian diet. The blueberry is not only sweet and delicious, but is rich in Vitamin C, manganese, and dietary fiber. being in the same fruit family as cranberry, the blueberry is equally high in antioxidants. The high grocery store price of blueberries is a great reason to grow your own bushes. Blueberry plants are easy to grow and have a long productive life. Just a few bushes would provide adequate berries for a small family. There are many blueberry varieties, so Willis Orchard Company has made it easy for you by offering only the best varieties. Choose any of our varieties and you will be pleased with abundant crops of delicious, healthy blueberries.
Researchers have shown that blueberry anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins, resveratrol, flavonols, and tannins inhibit mechanisms of cancer cell development and inflammation in vitro. Similar to red grape, some blueberry species contain in their skins significant levels of resveratrol, a phytochemical.
Although most studies below were conducted using the highbush cultivar of blueberries (V. corymbosum), content of polyphenol antioxidants and anthocyanins in lowbush (wild) blueberries (V. angustifolium) exceeds values found in highbush species.
At a 2007 symposium on berry health benefits were reports showing consumption of blueberries (and similar berry fruits including cranberries) may alleviate the cognitive decline occurring in Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions of aging.
Feeding blueberries to animals lowers brain damage in experimental stroke. Research at Rutgers has also shown that blueberries may help prevent urinary tract infections.
Other animal studies found that blueberry consumption lowered cholesterol and total blood lipid levels, possibly affecting symptoms of heart disease. Additional research showed that blueberry consumption in rats altered glycosaminoglycans which are vascular cell components affecting control of blood pressure.
Blueberry has been used in connection with the following conditions (refer to the individual health concern for complete information):
Common cold/sore throat, Diarrhea and Urinary tract infection
Disclaimer:The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.