When we talk about blueberries, we are usually referring to cultivated blueberries. Cultivated blueberries originate from North American blueberries, notably the northern highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum). The northern highbush blueberry has been introduced throughout the world. However, there are also European blueberries (Vaccinium myrtillus), commonly known as bilberries. North American blueberries and bilberries have a lot in common.
North American blueberries and bilberries can be prepared and eaten in similar ways. However, bilberries taste more flavorsome than American blueberries, while American blueberries are sweeter and larger. Both types of blueberries can only be stored for a few days.
If you pick wild blueberries, you should wash them thoroughly and if in doubt cook them because there is a small chance that they have been infected with the eggs of Echinococcus multilocularis, a type of tapeworm.1
Blueberries are a delicious fresh snack and taste great in fruit salads, muesli, and smoothies. Hot blueberries are also commonly served with ice cream, pancakes, crepes, and (plant-based) milk dishes. Blueberries can be used to make a wide variety of desserts including jams, jellies, juices, compote, ice cream, Rødgrød, and tiramisu. They also taste great in muffins, cakes, and pies.
Blueberries are an ingredient in the gluten-free, raw vegan Erb Muesli. This muesli mix contains bananas, apples rich in fiber, citrus fruits rich in vitamin C, and berries full of antioxidants, as well as other pseudograins, seeds, and golden millet. You can also try Erb Muesli with Rolled Oats!
Mix 250 g (whole wheat) flour and 100 g ground almonds with 1 teaspoon baking powder, some fresh vanilla bean or vanilla extract, 80 g Muscovado, and a pinch of salt. Add a mashed banana, 150 mL oat milk, 70 mL canola oil, and the juice of half an orange, and mix all ingredients until it forms a smooth batter. Carefully fold in 200 g fresh blueberries. Line a muffin pan with paper liners and spoon the dough into the individual cups. Bake at 180 °C for about 25 minutes.
To make the cream, whip 200 g soy cream with 400 g drained silken tofu, 1 package of whipping cream stabilizer, 50 g soft margarine, 80 g sugar, and some vanilla bean or vanilla extract until the mixture is thick and creamy. Fold in 200 g pureed blueberries. In a separate bowl, mix a cup of strong, cooled coffee with 3 tbsp. amaretto. Line a 20 x 20 cm baking pan with zwieback and pour the coffee and amaretto mixture over it. Then cover with the blueberry cream. Continue like this until the ingredients are used up. Cover the last layer of cream with shredded coconut and garnish with fresh blueberries.
Blueberry tea can be found in specialty tea shops and online, and should be prepared according to the packet. For one cup of tea, infuse 1–2 tablespoons of dried blueberries in boiling water 10 minutes and then strain the berries.
Blueberries are sold in Europe and North America year-round. The North American blueberry season begins in April and runs until late September. For the cooler months of the year, blueberries are imported from South American countries including Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay.1
You can buy blueberries from all major supermarkets, including Walmart, Whole Foods Markets, Kroger, and Safeway (United States); Extra Foods, Metro, and Freshmart (Canada); Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Aldi, and Lidl (Great Britain); Woolworths, Coles, Aldi, and Harris Farm (Australia). These supermarkets may also sell organic blueberries, but if not you can try organic supermarkets and health food stores. When blueberries are in season in your region, you may also be able to find them at fresh food markets, or buy them directly from farmers.
Bilberries (European blueberries) (Vaccinium myrtillus) may be available online.
Wild blueberries including lowbush blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium) and bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillus) can be gathered in the wild in temperate zones of Eurasia and North America at altitudes of over two thousand meters. Bilberry bushes are deciduous and 10–60 cm tall with lots of branches. In late summer, the leaves begin to change color, with the bushes losing their leaves in fall and winter.3 Habitats where wild blueberries are commonly found include raised bogs, moorlands, acidic oak heath forests, coniferous forests, areas with matgrass, and heather moors.4 You can recognize bilberries by their dark blue skin and dark flesh.
Feral cultivated blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) can increasingly be found in the wild if you look in the right places. These blueberry bushes can vary from being ground-cover plants to growing up to several meters tall. Blueberry flowers are urn-shaped, and the berries have dark blue skin and pale flesh. Cultivated blueberries are significantly larger and less flavorsome than wild blueberries.5
Blueberries are coated in a white powdery substance. This wax coating is known as bloom or epicuticular wax and is naturally produced to protect the berries from external damage.5
Fresh blueberries should be kept in the refrigerator. This significantly increases their shelf life. Blueberries can also easily be frozen, with freezing hardly impacting their quality. If you store blueberries at 0 °C, they can be kept for up to seven weeks. Wild blueberries and bilberries, on the other hand, are highly pressure-sensitive, meaning they can only be kept for one week even when frozen.1
Cultivated (highbush) blueberries contain about twice the amount of sugar of bilberries and wild lowbush blueberries, however half the organic acids and fewer anthocyanins (colored water-soluble pigments). Wild and cultivated blueberries contain similar amounts of vitamins and minerals. However, bilberries are rich in organic acids, including malic acid, citric acid, tartaric acid, quinic acid, shikimic acid1, and chlorogenic acid. Bilberries contain tanning agents (7.6 %), alkaloids, flavonoids (hyperoside), and pectin, a water-soluble dietary fiber.4
Bilberries contain anthocyanins; however, the content of anthocyanins depends on the variety, their ripeness, and the climate that they are grown in. Findings vary between 3.8 g and 6.0 g per kilogram. Bilberries contain 15 different anthocyanins including cyanidin, dolphinidin, peonidin, petunidin, and malvidin.6
Bilberry bush leaves contain iridoids4 and the antiseptic arbutin, which means that the leaves are slightly toxic.3,7
What vitamins do blueberries contain? Detailed nutritional information about blueberries including the vitamins, minerals, and trace elements they contain can be found in the tables below the text. The percentage of the recommended daily intake of each nutrient is also listed.
Blueberries and bilberries usually have a very good ratio of omega-6 (linoleic acid, LA) to omega-3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid, ALA). In general, berries contain very little fat and accordingly the amounts of omega-3 and omega-6 are also low.
The body absorbs alpha-linolenic acid and uses it to produce eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), both of which have anti-inflammatory effects. On the other hand, the body absorbs linoleic acid to produce arachidonic acid, which promotes inflammation. Blueberries’ healthy ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids is another reason why they are considered a healthy food.
Detailed information on the amount of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in a variety of berries (source: USDA, Önwt, Debinet).
|Fresh Berries||Omega-6 Fatty Acids (g/100 g)||Omega-3 Fatty Acids (g/100 g)||Ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 Fatty Acids (LA:ALA)||Total Fat (g/100 g)||Source|
|Blackberries||0.19 0.4 0.36||0.09 0.3 0.26||2:1 1.25:1 1.3:1||0.34 1.0 1.0|| |
USDA Önwt Debinet
|Blueberries||0.2 0.22||0.2 0.15||1:1 1.5:1||0.6 0.6|| |
|Raspberries||0.25 0.1||0.2 0.15||1:1 1.5:1||0.6 0.6||USDA Önwt|
|Strawberries||0.09||0.06||1.5:1||0.21 0.4||USDA Debinet|
|Currants (red and white)||0.05 0.04||0.04 0.03||1:1 1.25:1||0.13 0.2||USDA Debinet|
Blueberries have the capacity to contain high levels of antioxidants, which is measured by their Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) . They have an antioxident capacity of 25 µmol TE/g (Trolox equivalent antioxidant capacity).12,13 Blueberries are considered one of the best fruits for stress relief. However, bear in mind that some of these antioxidants are always lost through digestion, meaning that the results from in vitro studies should be taken with caution.14
Blueberries contain anthocyanins (natural pigments), which are radical scavengers. Anthocyanins work together with other flavonoids to strengthen the immune system. Flavanoids have antimicrobial properties, supporting the body in defending itself against viruses, fungi, and bacteria.1,4,6
What are the health benefits of blueberries? Blueberries have astringent, diuretic, anti-inflammatory, and antimutagenic effects. They also protect against swelling and protect nerve cells and fiber from dying. Furthermore, the anthocyanins found in blueberries improve vision, can lower blood sugar levels, and prevent lipoprotein oxidation: the oxidation of fat-protein complexes in the blood. Anthocyanins can counteract physical and mental aging processes by improving the microcirculation of blood to the eyes, skin, and nervous system.2,7,6
Studies have shown that the blueberries have positive effects on blood vessels thanks to the anthocyanins they contain. These anthocyanins circulate in the blood as intermediate products of a metabolic pathway. Administering anthocyanins to healthy people was found to improve the function of the endothelium. Weakness in endothelium function plays a role in the development and progression of arteriosclerosis. Consuming anthocyanins in isolation, for example, in the form of anthocyanin supplements, was found to be comparable to eating blueberries. Consuming blueberries daily for one month has been linked to vasodilation and decreased blood pressure. Anthocyanin has been shown to be the main agent that decreases blood pressure and encourages differential gene expression (cell renewal).8
Blueberries contain pectin: a water-soluble dietary fiber that is a good source of intestinal bacteria. They stimulate intestinal activity, binding liquid and making your stool firmer. Pectin can swell considerably when it comes into contact with liquid and can therefore absorb and excrete microbial toxins in the intestine.1
Fresh blueberries are very healthy and could be considered a superfood. However, the term superfood is overridingly used for marketing and does not guarantee that a food is particularly healthy. Nonetheless, there is considerable scientific evidence demonstrating the health benefits of blueberries, and for this reason we think that calling blueberries a superfood is justified.
Some possible side effects of blueberries include hypersensitivity reactions, diarrhea (fresh berries), and constipation (dried berries). Bilberries may also temporarily discolor the mouth, teeth, and stool.2,7
You should also be cautious about the long-term consumption and use of blueberry leaves.4 Commission E, an independent scientific advisory board of the German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices, advises against the consumption and medicinal use of blueberry leaves.2
Blueberry leaves and dried blueberries are considered a remedy for diarrhea thanks to the tannins and pectin that they contain.1,4 However, only blueberries are used for medicinal treatments, prepared either as a tea or chewed while drinking something.2
Blueberries may be consumed to treat edema, anemia, varicose veins, red veins, circulatory problems, and eye problems. Blueberry leaves furthermore be eaten for urinary tract infections (leaves) and cystitis.External applications may help with inflammation of the gums, mouth, and throat, as well as hemorrhoids, skin problems, the healing of tissue, and burns.2,4,7
Medicinal treatments made from blueberries may be available in pharmacies and drug stores as teas, capsules, dried berries (Myrtilli fructus siccus or Myrtilli fructus) and juice. Blueberry leaves (Myrtilli folium) are less common. Bilberry capsules containing the active ingredient anthocyanosides are also available online. Doctors may prescribe these capsules for treating capillary fragility and altered permeability of the blood capillaries.2
People who are hypersensitive to blueberries may experience prolonged diarrhea, blood in the stool, and fever. If you experience these symptoms, or if infants experience any diarrhea, consult a doctor concerning treatments containing blueberries and blueberry extracts.2
Where do blueberries come from? Wild North American blueberries were food for Indigenous Americans. From around 1900, blueberries were cultivated from the northern highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) and other wild species of Vaccinium. It has since been extensively cultivated, and today there are numerous varieties of cultivated blueberries.5
The bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) originally comes from Europe and Eastern Siberia. Today it is found in central and northern Europe, in the mountains in southern Europe, in the arctic tundra, in East Asia, and in North America.1,9
You can grow blueberries in your garden; they require little maintenance. Blueberries grow best in locations with full sunlight. As blueberry bushes were originally moorland plants, they require a loose, humus, acidic soil with a pH of about 3.5–4.5. You can create an acidic soil by combining peat, sand, and bark mulch from coniferous trees. You should fertilize your blueberries with a nitrogenous fertilizer, or with a fertilizer specifically made for blueberries or rhododendron. You should avoid fertilizers containing lime and compost. Blueberries are shallow rooted plants, meaning that you should only weed by hand.10
When should you prune blueberry bushes? Blueberry bushes should have about 6–8 shoots that are a maximum of three years old. You should rejuvenate blueberry bushes every 4–5 years by cutting the older shoots just above the ground.10
In Central Europe, blueberries can be harvested from the beginning of July to mid-August. The size of blueberries depends on the variety, with some sorts being 5–12 mm on average and others being 30 mm on average. Each berry contains 30–80 tiny brown seeds, which are ready to germinate when the fruit ripens. The radicle usually emerges after 14–35 days and after 3–8 weeks the cotyledons emerge.5
The USA is the largest cultivator of blueberries in the world, producing 48.7% of the global harvest.5,3 In Europe, Poland, Germany, and Spain are major countries where blueberries are grown. Blueberries cultivation in countries in the Southern Hemisphere such as Chile and Argentina enables blueberries to be sold all year round.According to Wikipedia, in 2016 the global harvest of blueberries was 553,000 tons.
If you are picking bilberries, there is the risk that you may confuse them with bog bilberries (Vaccinium uliginosum), also of the Vaccinium genus. Bog bilberries are psychoactive plants that may occasionally lead to symptoms of poisoning after consumption. However, you would have to consume a large quantity of bog bilberries to risk intoxication. One way to distinguish bilberries from bog bilberries is the color of the berry’s flesh: bilberries have dark flesh whereas bog bilberries have lighter flesh.11
Blueberry flowers are rich in nectar and the urn shape of the flowers help bees to latch on to the flowers. Blueberry bushes’ flowering period is from May to July. Bees collect nectar, pollen, and honeydew. Blueberry flowers contain high amounts of nectar and moderate amounts of pollen. Furthermore, blueberries are important supplementary foods in the diets of a variety of birds and mammals, including jay, partridge, western capercaillie, pigeons, thrushes, mice, badgers, and foxes.9
Vaccinium are a common and widespread genus of shrubs in the heather family (Ericaceae). There are 450 to 500 species of Vaccinium, including a range of commercial berry species.3
Blueberries are one of the best-known species of the Vaccinium genus. They are derived from the North American northern highbush blueberry and have dark blue skin and white flesh. In contrast, bilberries that are native to Europe have darker flesh.3,5
Are blueberries and bilberries the same? Technically, blueberries and bilberries are not the same species of berry. However, ‘blueberry’ is often used as a general term to describe several berry species, and bilberries may sometimes be referred to as blueberries.
Are blueberries fruits? Botanically, blueberries are considered berries. Berries share a range of similar characteristics, for example, fleshy fruit, no stone, and a small, roundish shape.
Blueberries are also known as whortleberries, dwarf blueberries, and bilberries.