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.
The genus Vaccinium has a mostly circumpolar distribution, with species mainly being present in North America, Europe, and Asia.
Many commercially sold species with English common names including blueberry are from North America. Many North American native species of blueberries are grown commercially in the Southern Hemisphere in Australia, New Zealand and South American nations.
Several other wild shrubs of the genus Vaccinium also produce commonly eaten blue berries, such as the predominantly European Vaccinium myrtillus and other bilberries, which in many languages have a name that translates to “blueberry” in English. See the Identification section for more information.
Commercially offered blueberries are usually from species that naturally occur only in eastern and north-central North America. Other sections in the genus, native to other parts of the world, including the Pacific Northwest and southern United States, South America, Europe, and Asia, include other wild shrubs producing similar-looking edible berries, such as huckleberries and whortleberries in North America and bilberries in Europe. These species are sometimes called blueberries and sold as blueberry jam or other products.
Cyanococcus blueberries can be distinguished from the nearly identical looking bilberries by their flesh color when cut in half. Ripe blueberries have light green flesh, while bilberries, whortleberries and huckleberries are red or purple throughout.
Significant production of highbush blueberries occurs in British Columbia, Maryland, Western Oregon, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Washington. The production of southern highbush varieties in California is rapidly increasing, as varieties originating from University of Florida, Connecticut, New Hampshire, North Carolina State University and Maine have been introduced. Southern highbush berries are now also cultivated in the Mediterranean regions of Europe, Southern Hemisphere countries and China.
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.
Blueberries are sold fresh or are processed as individually quick frozen IQF fruit, purée, juice, juice concentrate or dried or infused berries. These may then be used in a variety of consumer goods, such as jellies, jams, blueberry pies, muffins, snack foods, or as an additive to breakfast cereals.
Blueberry jam is made from blueberries, sugar, water, and fruit pectin. Blueberry sauce is a sweet sauce prepared using blueberries as a primary ingredient.
Blueberry wine is made from the flesh and skin of the berry, which is fermented and then matured; usually the lowbush variety is used.
Health benefits of drinking blueberry juice
Lose weight: A study conducted by the University of Michigan found that blueberries can aid in weight loss. Blueberries were found to help reduce fat in rats regardless of the diet they were on. Researchers believe that blueberries have an impact on the way our body stores and breaks down sugar. Although the study was conducted on rats and more research on human subjects is required, there are previous studies suggesting similar results.
Slow down the aging process: Thanks to its high antioxidant count, blueberry juice can help fight off free radical damage that speeds up the aging process. In one study, participants consumed blueberry juice combined with apple juice for four weeks. The researchers found that oxidative DNA damage – which promotes aging and increases the risk of cancer – was reduced by 20 percent.
Pack on antioxidants: As mentioned, blueberries and blueberry juice are high in antioxidants, which fight free radical damage. Blueberries are noted to offer the highest amount of antioxidants, compared to other fruits. Aside from fighting free radicals, antioxidants have also been linked to improved overall health.
Lower blood pressure: Studies have found that blueberry consumption is associated with a reduction in blood pressure. After eight weeks of consuming 50 grams of blueberries a day, high-risk heart disease patients experienced four to six percent decrease in blood pressure.
Prevent heart disease: Because blueberries can aid in hypertension, they can also help reduce the risk of heart disease as well. Blueberries are known to reduce the risk factors related to heart disease, but more research is required to determine if they can reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke.
Boost brain health: Free radicals and oxidative stress can damage the brain, but the antioxidants in blueberries can help combat this, thus contributing to improved brain health. A six-year study consisting of 16,010 elderly found that consuming blueberries and strawberries delayed cognitive impairment by 2.5 years.
Manage diabetes: Blueberries are fairly low in sugar, which makes them a healthy snack for diabetics that won’t increase the blood sugar levels. Blueberry properties have also been shown to benefit insulin control and sensitivity, which can be easily achieved by drinking blueberry juice.
Treat urinary tract infections: Cranberry juice is often hailed for aiding in urinary tract infections, but blueberry juice can benefit the treatment as well. Blueberries and cranberries are closely related and share the same active ingredients that help treat a urinary tract infection. Just remember to drink a natural blueberry juice and not the cocktail variety, which is packed with sugar and can worsen the condition.
Relieve muscle damage after strenuous exercise: After an intense workout, muscles may get tired and sore, but this muscle fatigue can be improved with the consumption of blueberry juice and blueberries. Blueberries can help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress on the muscles, thus speeding up muscle repair.
Support eye health: The antioxidants in blueberries can aid in eye health by preventing free radical damage to the eyes and the ensuing vision problems. Blueberries also aid in blood pressure, which is a contributing factor to poor vision as well.
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