The blueberry may be small, but it’s no youngster! Botanists estimate blueberries burst onto the scene more than 13,000 years ago! Blueberries are indigenous to North America and have deep roots there. When Europeans arrived on the continent, the Native Americans were already enjoying blueberries year-round. They dried blueberries in the sun and added them whole to soups, stews and meat, or crushed them into a powder rubbed into meat as a preservative. According to legend, Native Americans gave blueberries to the pilgrims to help them make it through their first winter.
A Superfood for Super Health!
Don’t let their miniature size fool you – blueberries are proof that, when it comes to health benefits, good things really do come in small packages. Especially in small, blue ones! The health benefits of blueberries are even bigger than you might know. They’re low in fat, have just 80 calories per cup, and scientific studies show that blueberries contain substances with antioxidant properties. Antioxidants help to neutralize free radicals, which are unstable molecules linked to the development of a number of diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease and other age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s. Blueberries are high in Vitamin C, which promotes a healthy immune system, and manganese, which plays an important role in bone development. They’re also a good source of dietary fibre, which contributes to heart health, helping to keep cholesterol in check.
Botanically speaking, blueberries (genus Vaccinium) are part of a plant family that includes the flowering azalea, mountain laurel and heather-plants. They like acid soil and plenty of water. Blueberry bushes can grow up to 12 feet tall, but most peak at about 6 feet. In the spring, clusters of beautiful white blossoms pop up all over the bushes and are pollinated by bees. Each blossom eventually becomes one blueberry – first hard and green, then reddish-purple, and finally blue, sweet and ready to eat!
Buying and Using Bluberries
For the fresh market, blueberries are mainly picked by hand and then sorted in a packhouse where any bruised or unripe ones are removed. Only round, plump berries pass the inspection point. The best fresh blueberries are packaged in containers with labels indicating where they were grown and packed. These containers are stored in large refrigerated rooms until they’re taken to market.
When you go to buy fresh blueberries, look for ones that are firm, dry, plump and smooth-skinned, with a silvery surface bloom and no leaves or stems. Size isn’t an indicator of maturity but color is-berries should be deep purple-blue to blue-black. Reddish berries aren’t ripe, but you can use them in cooking.
Refrigerate fresh blueberries as soon as you get them home, either in their original plastic pack or in a covered bowl or container.
Freezing blueberries for longer term storage is simple too. The key is to use fresh blueberries that are completely dry when you pop them in the freezer. Don’t worry about rinsing the berries before you freeze them; simply place them, still in their original containers, in resealable plastic bags and store them on your freezer shelf. The berries will freeze individually and you can remove just the portion you need. For best results, use your home-frozen blueberries within six months.
According to research, the red raspberry or Rubus idaeus, is native of Asian Minor and North America. The first to note an appreciation for this fruit were the people of Troy, who used to gather them in the foothills of Mt. Ida, at the time of Jesus Christ. Other literary records can be found in 4th century
writings, by Palladius, who was an american agriculturist. Archaeologists have found seeds in Roman forts in Britain, so it is believed that the Romans are responsible for spreading raspberries throughout Europe.
Medieval History of Raspberries
By the Middle Ages, wild berries were widely known and used as a food, as well as for medicinal purposes. Their juices were sometimes used in art, for paintings for example. King Edward I of England – He made raspberries famous and encouraged their cultivation throughout Great Britain In these times, only the rich could afford raspberries! King Edward I (1272 – 1307) is credited for encouraging cultivation of raspberries, which underwent a fast increase in popularity and availability
The most important causes of raspberry success are careful selection of plant types, a solid trellising system, and ongoing care that matches the plant type. If this is provided, your plant will reward you with decades of high fruit yield and a lot of satisfaction. Raspberry plants are extremely prolific and even planting a single cane will almost guarantee you will have dozens in a couple of years. Raspberries prefer slightly acidic pHs of around 6.
The best time to plant raspberry bushes is in early spring, well through summer (for summer-planting you will need a very healthy plant though). If you plant them in spring, you will often get the first fruits in summer!
The purpose of pruning is removing the old, unproductive canes to make room for younger, healthier ones. Some of your new canes will start fruiting at their top in late summer, through fall. Wait until spring, keeping track of these canes, and prune these 1-year-old canes. You should only cut them to just below the fruiting area (about level with the top support wire), as this will let them fruit in July, while new primocanes will grow rapidly from between the old canes. These primocanes will fruit in late summer, and should be then thinned and their suckers cleared away (unless you want your entire garden filled with raspberries!).
A good rule for keeping your raspberry plants healthy is to keep them damp in summer and dry in winter: mulching extensively is useful for keeping moisture to a good level, and remember that a drip system is the best way to water them. Raspberry plants also need a lot of nitrogen to grow to full size (about 7 feet). Raspberries are self pollinating, but will need the aid of bees or other insects to self-pollinate, so try to find a spot with a beehive in the vicinity.
Health Benefits of Raspberries
Raspberries’ most peculiar nutrient is ellagic acid, a natural phytonutrient belonging to the family of tannins, which is probably the most important antioxidant found in raspberries. Ellagic acid is frequently sold in health food stores as a dietary supplement. Ellagic acid, as well as all the other antioxidants found in raspberries, are useful to prevent damage to cell membranes and DNA, since they prevent the action of free radicals by quenching their oxidant potential. Other important phynutrients contained in raspberries are flavonoids: the most represented are quercetin, kaempferol and two cyanidin-containing molecules, cyanidin-3-glucosylrutinoside and cyanidin-3-rutinoside.
While discovering all these new and peculiar phytonutrients is cool, we shouldn’t forget about traditional nutrients, especially vitamins.
Raspberries are an excellent source of vitamin C, manganese, folate, riboflavin, magnesium, niacin, potassium and copper. This makes them a very good source of B class vitamins, as well as an excellent source of soluble dietary fiber.
Download the About the Berries Brochure.