Did you know that July is National Blueberry Month? Blueberries are in season now, and reasonably priced at grocery stores, fruit stands, and farmers’ markets. Many growers also offer a “pick your own” service which can be a fun family outing. The good news is that this delicious treat has many health benefits. Blueberries are low in calories- only 80 calories per cup but are packed with nutrients. A handful of blueberries satisfy the recommended intake of dietary fiber. They are also high in vitamin C- one serving provides 25% of your daily requirement. Blueberries are also high in manganese, which helps the body process cholesterol and nutrients such as carbohydrates and protein.
Blueberries are a native North American plant, and it was only within the last 100 years that we have been able to grow them commercially. All thanks to Elizabeth White, the daughter of a New Jersey farmer, teamed up with USDA botanist Frederick Coville to domesticate the blueberry. They spent years identifying blueberry plants with desirable qualities for cultivation. They harvested and sold the first cultivated crop of blueberries in 1916- exactly 100 years ago! Until 20 years ago, blueberries could only be grown in northern climates like New Jersey, Maine, and Michigan. Thanks to the University of Florida, southern blueberry cultivars were developed through research that don’t require as many chilling hours and bear more fruit. Although Florida is not currently the leading producer of blueberries, we are quickly catching up with 25 million pounds produced annually!
Fun Facts about Blueberries:
- Blueberries are relatives of the rhododendron family
- The perfect blueberry should have a “dusty’ appearance
- Don’t wash your blueberries until you are ready to eat them (washing speeds up the spoiling process).
- To freeze blueberries, place them unwashed, on a cookie sheet and flash freeze. Then place them in quart-size freezer bags to use later in smoothies, crumbles, cobblers, or ice cream.
- Recent studies show that blueberries may have the potential to aid in memory loss, vision loss and even slow down the aging process
- Native Americans recognized the nutritional value of blueberries and used them for medicinal purposes as well as flavorings
- Early American Colonists used blueberries to dye fabric and also to color paint
This month, celebrate the blueberry by planting a bush, visiting a U-pick farm, or making a tasty home-made blueberry treat. Fresh From Florida (a division of the Florida Department of Ag) has lots of free and delicious recipes. Try Florida Blueberry Parfait, Blueberry Breakfast Casserole, Blueberry and Blue Cheese Salad or even Blueberry Barbecue Sauce!
Additional UF/IFAS Resources about Blueberries:
- Guide to Growing Blueberries in Florida
- Selecting, Preparing and Canning Whole Blueberries
- Selecting, Preparing and Canning Blueberry Pie Filling
- Blueberry Spice Jam
- Selecting, Preparing and Canning Blueberry Syrup