by Anastassia Skarlinski
People often say that there are only three fruits native to North America; cranberries, blueberries, and Concord grapes. Although these are indeed native to North America, there are so many others too! Persimmons, pawpaw, a couple kinds of plums, a ton of different berries, and more. However, many of these fruits are not commercially available. It is worth seeing which native fruits and other plants grow in your region for your garden. Cultivating native plants is good for the environment, and you just might find that your new favorite fruit is the buffaloberry. Just for today let’s take a quick look at the blueberry.
As mentioned, blueberries are native to North America. They were an important crop for Native American tribes as they could be stored longer than other kinds of berries. Before the early 1900’s blueberries were solely a wild crop, no one believed that they could successfully be cultivated. The key to cultivation was found through research done by Elizabeth White and Frank Coville. Although I do not pretend to be any sort of gardener, it is said that blueberries like semi-sunny spots with acidic soil. I have also heard that they need to be planted with a friend, otherwise they can not be pollinated and give you any delicious berries. Largely blueberry types are dependent on the type of bush that they grow on, high or low. However, there are a few fun varieties that grow pink blueberries, which are said to be sweeter than the traditional berries while still rich in nutrients.
But what nutrients? Blueberries are a good source of fiber, vitamin K and C, and manganese. They also have some Vitamin E, B6, and copper. In the late 1990s and early 2000s there was a lot of excitement around blueberries due to their antioxidant content. So much excitement that US production jumped from 100 million pounds a year in the 1990s to over 500 million pounds a year today. Blueberries are rich in a bunch of different antioxidants; some studies have found 13,427 antioxidants in a cup of blueberries. There are anthocyanins, which give blueberries their color and may help heart health, quercetin, which may help lower blood pressure and gives you many points in Scrabble, myricetin, which may help prevent some forms of cancer, and more. Blueberries are being researched for their role in heart health, brain function, eye health, and blood sugar control. Blueberries can be bought dried, frozen, or fresh. They are available year-round, but you should start to see NC locally grown around mid- to late May. Some prefer their blueberries in salad with feta cheese, others like theirs on yogurt, I am just happy to eat them out of hand. Blueberries can be thrown into a smoothie, tossed on hot or cold cereals, or chopped into a salsa. They can be turned into jams and jellies, or baked into muffins, scones, and quick breads. The Dakota makes a blueberry sauce, Wojapi, which can be served with sweet or savory foods (recipe below). They can also be muddled into this refreshing summer drink. No matter how you add them they make a wonderful addition to your diet.
4 cups blueberries
1 Tbsp cornstarch
¼ cup water
Maple syrup or honey
- In a saucepan, simmer berries and water over low heat, stirring occasionally.
- Combine cornstarch with two tsp water until smooth.
- Whisk into hot blueberry sauce until dissolved.
- Sweeten to taste with syrup or honey
1 cup fresh blueberries
½ cup lime juice
¼ cup fresh mint leaves
2 cups ginger beer
1 cup sparkling water
- Place blueberries in the bottom of a serving pitcher with lime juice and mint.
- With a spoon or other implement smash and mix together (this is muddling)
- Stir in ginger beer and sparkling water.
- Serve over ice with lime slices and mint leaves.