This article is about the “American” blueberry. For the “European” blueberry, see Bilberry.
For other uses, see Blueberry (disambiguation).
Blueberries are perennial flowering plants with blue– or purple–colored berries. They are classified in the section Cyanococcus within the genus Vaccinium. Vaccinium also includes cranberries, bilberries, and huckleberries. Commercial “blueberries” – including both wild (‘lowbush’) and cultivated (‘highbush’) blueberries – are native to North America. The highbush blueberry varieties were introduced into Europe during the 1930s.
Blueberries are usually prostrate shrubs that can vary in size from 10 centimeters (3.9 in) to 4 meters (13 ft) in height. In commercial production of blueberries, the species with small, pea–size berries growing on low–level bushes are known as “lowbush blueberries” (synonymous with “wild”), while the species with larger berries growing on taller cultivated bushes are known as “highbush blueberries”.
The leaves can be either deciduous or evergreen, ovate to lanceolate, and 1–8 cm (0.39–3.15 in) long and 0.5–3.5 cm (0.20–1.38 in) broad. The flowers are bell-shaped, white, pale pink or red, sometimes tinged greenish. The fruit is a berry 5–16 millimeters (0.20–0.63 in) in diameter with a flared crown at the end; they are pale greenish at first, then reddish-purple, and finally dark purple when ripe. They are covered in a protective coating of powdery epicuticular wax, colloquially known as the “bloom”. They have a sweet taste when mature, with variable acidity. Blueberry bushes typically bear fruit in the middle of the growing season: fruiting times are affected by local conditions such as altitude and latitude, so the peak of the crop, in the northern hemisphere, can vary from May to August.
According to a 2014 report by US Department of Agriculture, Washington was the nation’s largest producer of cultivated (highbush) blueberries with 96.1 million pounds, followed in order of “utilized production” volume by Michigan and Georgia, Oregon, New Jersey, California and North Carolina. In terms of acres harvested for cultivated blueberries in 2014, the leading state was Michigan (19,000 acres) followed by Georgia, Oregon, Washington and New Jersey.
Hammonton, New Jersey claims to be the “Blueberry Capital of the World”, with over 80% of New Jersey’s cultivated blueberries coming from this town. Every year the town hosts a large festival that draws thousands of people to celebrate the fruit.
Resulting from cultivation of both lowbush (wild) and highbush blueberries, Maine accounts for 10% of all blueberries grown in North America with 44,000 hectares (110,000 acres) farmed, but only half of this acreage is harvested each year due to variations in pruning practices. The wild blueberry is the official fruit of Maine.
Canadian production of wild and cultivated blueberries in 2015 was 166,000 tonnes valued at $262 million, the largest fruit crop produced nationally accounting for 29% of all fruit value.
British Columbia was the largest Canadian producer of cultivated blueberries, yielding 70,000 tonnes in 2015, the world’s largest production of blueberries by region.
Atlantic Canada contributes approximately half of the total North American wild/lowbush annual production with New Brunswick having the largest in 2015, an amount expanding in 2016. Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Québec are also major producers. Nova Scotia recognizes the wild blueberry as its official provincial berry, with the town of Oxford, Nova Scotia known as the Wild Blueberry Capital of Canada.
Québec is a major producer of wild blueberries, especially in the regions of Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean (where a popular name for inhabitants of the regions is bleuets, or “blueberries”) and Côte-Nord, which together provide 40% of Québec’s total provincial production. This wild blueberry commerce benefits from vertical integration of growing, processing, frozen storage, marketing and transportation within relatively small regions of the province. On average, 80% of Québec wild blueberries are harvested on farms (21 million kg), the remaining 20% being harvested from public forests (5 million kg). Some 95% of the wild blueberry crop in Québec is frozen for export out of the province.
The blueberry harvest in North America varies. It can start as early as May and usually ends in late summer. The principal areas of production in the Southern Hemisphere (Australia, Chile, New Zealand and Argentina) have long periods of harvest. In Australia, for example, due to the geographic spread of blueberry farms and the development of new cultivation techniques, the industry is able to provide fresh blueberries for 10 months of the year – from July through to April. Similar to other fruits and vegetables, climate-controlled storage allows growers to preserve picked blueberries. Harvest in the UK is from June to August. Mexico also can harvest from October to February.
10 Amazing Benefits
Blueberries Are Low in Calories, But High in Nutrients
The blueberry is a flowering shrub that produces berries that are colored blue to purple, also known as blueberries.
It is strongly related to similar shrubs, such as those that produce cranberries and huckleberries.
Blueberries are small, around 5-16 millimeters (0.2-0.6 inches) in diameter, and have a flared crown at the end.
They are green in color at first, then change to blue-purple as they ripen.
These are the two most common types:
Highbush blueberries are the most commonly grown species in the US.
Lowbush blueberries are often referred to as “wild” blueberries. They are typically smaller and richer in some antioxidants.
Blueberries are among the most nutrient dense berries. A 1 cup serving (148 grams) of blueberries contains :
Fiber: 4 grams.
Vitamin C: 24% of the RDA.
Vitamin K: 36% of the RDA.
Manganese: 25% of the RDA.
Then it contains small amounts of various other nutrients.
They are also about 85% water, and an entire cup contains only 84 calories, with 15 grams of carbohydrates.
Calorie for calorie, this makes them an excellent source of several important nutrients.
Blueberries are the King of Antioxidant Foods
Antioxidants are important.
They protect our bodies from damage by free radicals, unstable molecules that can damage cellular structures and contribute to aging and diseases like cancer.
Blueberries are believed to contain the highest antioxidant capacity of ALL commonly consumed fruits and vegetables.
The main antioxidant compounds in blueberries belong to a large family of polyphenols, called flavonoids.
One group of flavonoids in particular, anthocyanins, is thought to be responsible for much of the beneficial health effects.
They have been shown to directly increase antioxidant levels inside the body.
Blueberries Reduce DNA Damage, Which May Help Protect Against Ageing and Cancer
Oxidative DNA damage is part of everyday life.
It is said to occur tens of thousands of times per day, in every single cell in the body.
DNA damage is part of the reason we grow older, and it also plays an important role in the development of diseases like cancer.
Because blueberries are high in antioxidants, they can help neutralize some of the free radicals that cause damage to our DNA.
In one 4-week study, 168 participants were instructed to drink 1 liter (34 ounces) of a mixture of blueberry and apple juice, every day.
At the end of the study, oxidative DNA damage due to free radicals was reduced by 20%.
These findings have also been supported by smaller studies using either fresh or powdered blueberries.
Blueberries Protect Cholesterol in The Blood From Becoming Damaged
Oxidative damage is not limited to our cells and DNA.
It is also problematic when our circulating LDL lipoproteins (the “bad” cholesterol) are oxidized.
In fact, oxidation of LDL is a crucial step in the heart disease process.
Fortunately for us, the antioxidants in blueberries are strongly linked to reduced levels of oxidized LDL.
A daily 50 gram serving of blueberries lowered LDL oxidation by 27% in obese participants, after a period of eight weeks.
Another study showed that 75 grams of blueberries with a main meal significantly reduced the oxidation of LDL lipoproteins.
Blueberries May Lower Blood Pressure
Blueberries appear to have significant benefits for people with high blood pressure, a major risk factor for some of the world’s leading killers.
In one study, obese individuals at a high risk for heart disease noted a 4-6% reduction in blood pressure, after consuming 50 grams (1.7 ounces) of blueberries per day, for eight weeks.
Other studies have found similar effects, especially when looking at post-menopausal women.
Given that high blood pressure is one of the leading drivers of heart attacks and strokes, the implications of this are potentially massive.
Blueberries May Help Prevent Heart Disease
Again, eating blueberries may lower blood pressure and oxidized LDL.
However, it’s important to realize that these are risk factors, not actual diseases.
What we really want to know is whether blueberries help prevent hard end points like heart attacks, which are the world’s biggest killer .
In a 2013 study on 93,600 nurses, eating plenty of anthocyanins (the main antioxidants in blueberries) was linked to a 32% lower risk of heart attacks.
This was an observational study, so it can not prove that the blueberries caused the reduction in risk, but it seems likely given the known beneficial effects on risk factors.
Blueberries Can Help Maintain Brain Function and Improve Memory
Oxidative stress can accelerate the brain’s aging process, having negative effects on brain function.
According to animal studies, the antioxidants in blueberries tend to accumulate in areas of the brain that are essential for intelligence.
They appear to directly interact with aging neurons, leading to improvements in cell signalling.
Human studies have also shown promising results.
In one of these studies, 9 elderly participants with mild cognitive impairment consumed blueberry juice every day. After 12 weeks, they had seen improvements in several markers of brain function.
A six year study of 16,010 elderly participants found that blueberries and strawberries were linked to delays in cognitive aging by up to 2.5 years.
Anthocyanins in Blueberries Can Have Anti-Diabetic Effects
Blueberries are moderate in sugar when compared to other fruits.
One cup contains 15 grams, which is equivalent to a small apple or large orange.
However, the bioactive compounds in blueberries appear to outweigh any negative impact of the sugar when it comes to blood sugar control.
Research suggests that anthocyanins in blueberries can have beneficial effects on insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism. These anti-diabetic effects have been shown with both blueberry juice and extract.
In a study of 32 obese subjects with insulin resistance, a blueberry smoothie caused major improvements in insulin sensitivity.
Improved insulin sensitivity should lower the risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes, which are currently some of the world’s biggest health problems.
Substances in Them May Help Fight Urinary Tract Infections
Urinary tract infections are a common problem in women.
It is well known that cranberry juice can help prevent these types of infections.
Blueberries are highly related to cranberries, and contain many of the same active substances as cranberry juice.
These substances are called anti-adhesives, and help prevent bacteria like E. coli from binding to the wall of the bladder.
Blueberries haven’t been studied much for this purpose, but chances are that they have similar effects as cranberries.
Blueberries May Help Reduce Muscle Damage After Strenuous Exercise
Strenuous exercise can lead to muscle soreness and fatigue.
This is driven, in part, by local inflammation and oxidative stress in the muscle tissue.
Blueberry supplementation may reduce the damage that occurs at the molecular level, minimizing soreness and reduction in muscle performance.
In a small study of 10 female athletes, blueberries accelerated muscle recovery after strenuous leg exercises.