The annual pruning of the blueberry bushes in early spring

The more you learn about blueberries, the more you may be puzzled by the expression “as American as apple pie,” which arguably doesn’t make a whole lot of sense at all. A DNA test has revealed that apples originated in the mountains of Kazakhstan, and pie itself can be traced back to the Roman empire. Blueberries, on the other hand—now they would be far more appropriate for that simile, for they are indigenous to the Americas and have been around these parts for 13,000 years now.

Native Americans called them “star berries.” The name was bestowed not because they taste out of this world but rather because of the distinct star-shape on the underside of each berry. Native Americans reportedly took it as a sign that the Great Spirit had sent them down from the cosmos as a gift to Earth. Apart from tasting great and pairing well with just about everything, the star berries’ medicinal qualities and health benefits would indeed suggest some sort of divine inception.

When European settlers arrived, Native Americans then introduced them to this wonderful berry. In fact, it’s highly likely that blueberries were on the menu at the first Thanksgiving meal. However, while they grew wild in many areas, blueberries weren’t grown commercially until the early 1900’s when Quaker and Philly-educated Elizabeth Coleman White invited USDA botanist Frederick Vernon Coville to experiment with wild blueberries at her parents’ cranberry farm. (If you’re interested, give Elizabeth Coleman White a Google: first woman to become a member of the American Cranberry Association, first woman to receive a citation from the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, and essentially responsible for blueberries as we know them today. She’s awesome.) 

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But more on blueberries! They tend to grow best in humid, northern climates with chilly winters and mild summers. They also prefer acidic soil conditions, which can make it hard for states like Pennsylvania and Kentucky to support blueberry production without significant alterations to the soil. Though 38 states now produce blueberries commercially, only 10 states are responsible for 98% of all domestic blueberry production. Those states are California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, and Washington.

As far as the health benefits of blueberries go, the list goes on. These powerhouse perennials are perennially praised as one of the most healthful foods that one can consume. They have the highest antioxidant levels of any common fruit you’ll find at the grocery store. They are vitamin-rich, low in calories/fat, and year after year we learn more about their contributions to brain-health, gut-health, and heart-health.

As if you needed any more convincing, the USDA has declared July “National Blueberry Month.”  So get on out there and eat a handful of blueberries ASAP! 

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