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Blueberries: America's Blue Antioxidant
Vaccinimum sp.

 

blueberry

 

Low bush blueberries blueberries High bush blueberries

Wild blueberries, Vaccinium sp., are native to all but two North American states, North Dakota and Nebraska. They range from coast to coast, but the species change and so do their seasons. The season starts with the Rabbit-eye blueberry, or Vaccinium ashei, in the south. Rabbit eyes can grow to be fifteen feet tall, but they are usually pruned back to six-to-seven feet. They are called Rabbit eye because the berries turn red, like the color of a rabbit’s eye, before they turn blue. Southerners claim these blueberries have the most intense flavor of all the blueberries and I tend to agree with them.Rabbit eyes are shipped all over the country—some even go into Canada and Japan.

As one moves north, blueberries ripen later, the berries are smaller and the bushes shorter. By the time you get to the northern states of New Jersey and Michigan, the blueberry is the High Bush blueberry, or Vaccinium corymbosum. Farther north in Maine, Quebec and Nova Scotia, the Low Bush blueberry, Vaccinium angustifolium, is king. August is the season for Maine and Canadian blueberries, which are called bluets in Quebec.

Maine is the largest producer of wild blueberries in the world and saw its first commercial harvest in the 1840s. Maine has 60,000 acres on which wild blueberries are growing naturally in fields and in barrens that stretch from Downeast in the state’s southwest corner to its northern border with Canada. It also has commercial fields. All in all, Maine’s annual blueberry crop is worth more than $75 million and is a major contribution to Maine’s economy. No wonder the blueberry is considered Maine’s official state berry. And its future looks bright. New research on the health and nutritional benefits of blueberry has contributed to a growing global demand for both fresh and processed wild blueberries in the United States and abroad.

Blueberries arefantastic when fresh, but freeze like a dream—and that is why 99 percent of the American harvest is frozen. So those who love them, freeze large amounts to have them all year long. Five and half million lbs. produced in MS. NJ and MI are the biggest HighBush producers, Georgia is well-known for their Rabbit eyes. Because they are rich in antioxidants, there is a very big health market for blueberries. Andrew Weil, Perricone Diet, Dr. Phil on TV all recommend eating½ cup a day.

The berries are grown on a two-year cycle — each year, half of a grower's land is managed to encourage vegetative growth and the other half is prepared for a Wild Blueberry harvest in August. After the harvest the plants are pruned to the ground by mowing or burning. Info from:http://wildblueberries.maine.edu/FactSheets/220.htm. Blueberries and cranberries are in the genus Vaccinium. The most abundant wild blueberry in Maine is known as the low sweet blueberry and has the species name angustifolium.

Researchers at the University of Maine will continue to investigate more efficient ways to produce, process and market wild blueberries. With all of these forces working together, a healthy future is in store for the wild blueberry industry. The Wild Blueberry Association of North America is an association formed in 1981 in both the United Stated and Canada with a mission to promote wild blueberry products. Currently, 99 percent of the crop is frozen, but five to ten percent of those berries are canned after the harvest is complete. Less than one percent of the wild blueberry crop is sold fresh.