Blueberries are flowering plants which belong to the genus, Vaccinium. The plants produce black, purple or dark blue berries are sold as blueberries, being native to North America. The shrubs are erect and vary from 10 cm to 14 m in height. Smaller species are known as “lowbush blueberries,” and larger species are called “highbush blueberries.” Blueberries have a circumpolar (traversing both of the poles) distribution with species showing up in North America, Asia and Europe. Many North American blueberries are commercially produced in the Southern Hemisphere in South America, New Zealand and Australia.
Where are Blueberries Grown?
There are significant numbers of highbush blueberries found in Washington, Maine, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, British Columbia and Oregon. The University of Florida and North Carolina State University have also introduced a southern highbush variety in California which has lead to a rapid increase. There are also southern highbush blueberries varieties showing up in the Southern Hemisphere countries, China and in Mediterranean regions of Europe.
How to Grow Blueberries
All types of blueberries will grow best when in an area of full sunlight. The plants can tolerate a partially shaded location; however, fruit production will decrease as the shade increases. Blueberries are shallow rooted and need ample space to allow for complete water, nutrient and air absorption for optimum production.
Nutrients Found in Blueberries and Healthy Ways to Prepare Them
Blueberries are naturally low in cholesterol, saturated fat and sodium, and also a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K and manganese. The berries are also a rich source of antioxidants which play an important role in cancer prevention. Being rich in phytochemicals, anthocyanidins and phenolics, blueberries are currently the subject of studies trying to identify anti-aging and anti-cancer properties.
Blueberries contain a wide and diverse range of nutrients which are important to human health. Essential dietary minerals found in the berries include; vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin K and dietary fiber. Particularly in wild species, blueberries contain a high level of antioxidants which play an important role in reducing the risks of certain diseases, inflammation and cancers.
Healthy Ways to Prepare Blueberries
Blueberries can be prepared and served in many different ways, however, to maintain all the valuable nutrients and vitamins it is best to serve them in a fresh, raw state. Other ways to prepare blueberries are to use as a dessert topping, add to breakfast cereal or granola, in a smoothie or to create a sauce for a meat or fish dish. There are many creative ways to incorporate blueberries as a part of a healthy diet.
Health Benefits of Blueberries
Blueberries contain many micronutrients that make them essential for fighting many chronic diseases, certain cellular abnormalities and other health-related conditions. Medical research has shown that blueberries contain anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins, flavonols, tannins and resveratrol which inhibit the mechanism of action in the growth of abnormal cells. A recent medical study found that eating blueberries may alleviate the cognitive decline experienced at the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
Research conducted by Rutgers has shown a definitive link between blueberry consumption and the prevention of urinary tract infections and colon cancer. Studies done in animals, shows that eating blueberries can lower cholesterol and total blood lipid levels, which can alleviate the symptoms of heart disease.
A recent study conducted by Tuft University analyzed more than 60 fruits and found that blueberries are a veritable powerhouse and rated highest for the ability to destroy free radicals. Free radicals damage cells and tissues of the body which can lead to glaucoma, cataracts, hemorrhoids, peptic ulcers, varicose veins, heart diseases and certain types of cancer. Blueberries contain anthocyanidins which protect the body against damage from free radicals and helps promote healthy body tissues and cells.
In addition, blueberries have also been shown to reduce the free radicals associated with aging. Blueberries have also shown prevent or delay age-related ocular conditions like macular degeneration, cataracts, myopia and hypermetropia. Due to certain compounds found in blueberries, consumption can also improve and alleviate constipation and indigestion, boost immune system function, strengthen cardiac muscles and contain natural mood enhancing substances.