What Are Blueberries?
Blueberries are the dark blue edible fruit that comes from a North American shrub, or bush, with the same name. Because of their sweet and tart flavor and their nearly seedless nature, blueberries are a very popular fruit.
Native Americans have used blueberries for thousands of years. They ate the berries in both fresh and dried form and used the fruit, leaves, flowers, stems, and roots for medicinal purposes.
When are blueberries in season?
Blueberries are native to parts of North America where the weather is mild. They're traditionally in season from April to September in the U.S. but are sold year-round as imports from South America. These tasty berries can be found in supermarkets, health food stores, and farmers markets around the country.
Are frozen blueberries as healthy as fresh?
Freezing freshly picked blueberries can help keep nutrients that fresh blueberries lose over time. Frozen blueberries, however, have less vitamin C.
Blueberries contain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that provide notable health benefits. For example, blueberries are rich in vitamin K, which helps promote heart health. The vitamin is also important in bone health and blood clotting.
Other health benefits of blueberries include:
High antioxidant levels
Blueberries are one of the best natural sources of antioxidants. They're thought to have the highest levels of antioxidants of any common fruit or vegetable. Antioxidants help protect against free radicals, which are harmful molecules your body makes in response to things that can damage cells.
Lower cholesterol levels
High cholesterol is unsafe for your heart because it and other substances can build up in your arteries, which carry blood throughout your body. This process is thought to be triggered when cholesterol in your blood goes through a chemical reaction called oxidization. Antioxidants in blueberries help prevent cholesterol from being oxidized.
Lower blood pressure
Eating blueberries regularly can help reduce high blood pressure. Plant compounds called anthocyanins, which give blueberries their color, are thought to be responsible for this benefit.
Blood sugar control
If you have diabetes, blueberries can help you better manage your blood sugar levels. Studies have shown that eating blueberries regularly can help improve insulin sensitivity in people with type 2 diabetes.
Blueberries contain dietary fiber, which helps your digestive system run smoothly.
Blueberries serving size
One cup of blueberries provides 25% of the daily recommended value of vitamin C and about 80 calories. It also has:
- Protein: 1 gram
- Fat: Less than 1 gram
- Carbohydrates: 22 grams
- Fiber: 4 grams
- Sugar: 15 grams
The fruit is an excellent source of:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin A
Wild blueberries, also known as lowbush blueberries, are harvested in North America like other blueberries but are smaller. They're often sold frozen.
They contain even higher level of anthocyanins than their larger cousins. Anthocyanins are antioxidants that may help with reducing signs of aging, risk of cancer, and damage to DNA.
A cup of organic wild blueberries has about twice as much fiber and calcium as farmed blueberries. They also have slightly less sugar and carbs.
Highbush or farmed blueberries, however, have more vitamin C than wild blueberries.
Blueberry tea can be made by steeping leaves of the blueberry bush in hot water to make it a sweet-smelling, refreshing beverage. Some blueberry tea that's sold in stores is simply blueberry-flavored and may not have the same benefits as tea made from blueberry leaves.
Blueberry tea benefits
Blueberry leaf tea offers many of the same potential benefits as the berries, including:
A stronger immune system. Like blueberries, blueberry leaf tea contains vitamin C, which has been shown to help make your immune system work better. The anthocyanins it contains can also help your body fight off infections.
Better brain function. Early research has shown that compounds found in wild blueberry leaves might help reduce inflammation that plays a role in cognitive brain disorders like Alzheimer's disease.
Cholesterol control. One small study found that children who were at risk for high cholesterol saw improvements in their blood fat levels after drinking blueberry tea daily for several months. We need more research into this.
Blueberry tea nutrition
Nutrition varies by brand, but one cup of hot blueberry tea brewed with water can have:
- Calories: 0
- Fat: 0 g
- Cholesterol: 0 mg
- Sodium: 0 mg
- Protein: 0 g
Brewing your tea using natural blueberry leaves adds several nutrients to your drink, including:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin K
Some people add dried blueberries before steeping their blueberry tea, which adds additional nutrients and flavor, though it also adds sugar and calories.
How to Grow Blueberries
Here are a few simple steps you can take to grow your own blueberries:
- Pick the right soil. Blueberries grow best in soil that's well-drained, weeded, and acidic.
- Choose the right plants. Plant at least two varieties, which helps with pollination. If you're planting rows of shrubs, space them at least 2 feet apart. For bushes, plant at least 6 feet apart. Cover the roots with 2-4 inches of grass clippings or mulch to keep the correct pH level.
- Plant in a sunny location. Blueberry plants grow best in direct sunlight. The more shade the plant is exposed to, the less fruit it produces.
- Keep them healthy.Look for yellowing of the leaves when the plants come out of the winter months. Fertilizing and watering the plants is important for growth.
- Watch them grow. Plants start to grow within 2 months, but it can take years to see fruit. Clusters of white flowers will appear, followed by the fruit, which will change in color from a light green eventually to blue. Blueberries are ready to be picked when the fruit and part of the stem is blue.
How to Prepare Blueberries
Blueberries bring a mild, sweet flavor that’s perfect for baked goods and desserts. They last longer if refrigerated or frozen. They can be added in fresh or frozen form to most recipes with similar results.
Here are some easy ways to add blueberries to your diet:
- Bake a blueberry pie.
- Add blueberries to smoothies.
- Make blueberry juice.
- Include blueberries in pancakes.
- Dry blueberries for a raisin-like treat.
- Make a blueberry gazpacho.
Heating may affect the amount of antioxidants blueberries provide.
How to Store Blueberries
Put blueberries in the refrigerator as soon as possible after leaving the grocery store. You can keep them in the container they came in or place them in a covered bowl.
Rinse blueberries before you eat them, but not before you store them.
How to freeze blueberries
To freeze blueberries, wash them off and let them dry. Arrange them in a single layer on a cookie sheet, then put it in the freezer. Once they're frozen, place them in a freezer-safe bag or other container. Frozen blueberries can be stored for up to 10 months.
How to can blueberries
Using a water canner or pressure canner, you can safely can blueberries that are raw, heated, or cooked into liquid with sugar, water, and juice. Follow USDA rules for safe canning to prevent bacteria growth.