Tradition: For centuries, blueberries
were gathered from the forests and the bogs by Native Americans
and consumed fresh and also preserved. The Northeast Native
American tribes revered blueberries and much folklore developed
around them. The blossom end of each berry, the calyx, forms
the shape of a perfect five-pointed star; the elders of the
tribe would tell of how the Great Spirit sent "star berries"
to relieve the children's hunger during a famine. Parts of the
blueberry plant were also used as medicine. A tea made from
the leaves of the plant was thought to be good for the blood.
Blueberry juice was used to treat coughs. The juice also made
an excellent dye for baskets and cloth. In food preparation,
dried blueberries were added to stews, soups and meats. The
dried berries were also crushed into a powder and rubbed into
meat for flavor. Blueberries were also used for medicinal purposes
along with the leaves and roots. A beef jerky called Sautauthig
(pronounced saw'-taw-teeg), was made with dried blueberries
and meat and was consumed year round.
During the seventeenth century, settlers
from England arrived in the New World to begin colonies. Immediately,
they set about clearing the land and establishing farms for they
could not rely solely on supplies from England. But the land and
the climate were far different from what they left behind. Many
early attempts at farming failed.
In the winter of 1620, the Pilgrims
established a settlement at Plimoth (spelled Plymouth today). Many
perished during the first few months, but those that survived went
on to build homes and establish farms. Their neighbors, the Wampanoag
Indians taught the settlers new skills that helped them survive.
They showed them how to plant corn and how to gather and use native
plants to supplement their food supply. One important native crop
was blueberries!! The colonists learned from Native Americans how
to gather blueberries, dry them under the summer's sun and store
them for the winter. In time, blueberries became an important food
source and were preserved, and later canned. A beverage made with
blueberries was an important staple for Civil War Soldiers. In the
1880s a blueberry canning industry began in the Northeast USA.
Vacinnium is the family of all blueberries and includes
more than 450 plants. . This plant grows wild around the world
and there are many names given to different blueberries. For practical
and commercialpurposes we concentrate on three different varieties:
V. corymbosum. (Northern Highbush)
Grow in the forests wild in North America and were used to cultivate
the modern highbush or cultivated blueberry industry along with
the V. Ashei. (Botanical information)
V. ashei. (Southern Rabbiteye). You may be
suprised to learn that blueberries thrive in the Southern USA. A
variety called the Rabbiteye is named this because the calyx on
the berry resembles the eye of the rabbit! (Botanical Information)
V. angustifolium. (Lowbush or also called "Wild
blueberries." These dwarf bushes are very cold hardy, surviving
in the wild as far north as Arctic North America. These Blueberries
only reach a height of 1 or 2 feet. and include the low sweet Blueberry
(V. angustifolium), which is found from the Arctic to Minnesota
and the mountains of New York and New Hampshire, and the sour-tasting
velvet-leaf Blueberry (V. myrtilloides), which is found wild throughout
New England and west. (Botanical Information)
Other Terms: Many
different names have been given to the numerous varieties of Vacinnium
that produce edible fruits, such as Blueberry, Bilberry, Cowberry,
Cranberry, Crowberry; Farkleberry, Lingonberry, Partridgeberry,
Huckleberry (not the true Huckleberry, which is Gaylussacia), Whortleberry,
and Sparkleberry to mention a few.
Information Resource: http://www.botany.com/vaccinium.html
The Improved Blueberry
For centuries decades, blueberries
maintained popularity in the USA, with a thriving commercial business
in the Northeast USA and Canada. An important step in the development
of the highbush blueberry industry came in the turn of the century.
Efforts in the early 1900's by Elizabeth White and Dr. Frederick
Coville to domesticate the wild highbush blueberry resulted in today's
cultivated highbush blueberry industry. They selected desirable
plants from the wild forests of the Northeast USA and cultivated
them to develop blueberries that could be commercially grown by
farmers. Their initial breeding work has resulted in the plump,
juicy, sweet and easy to pick cultivated blueberry we enjoy today.
Without this cultivation work we would not have fresh blueberries
in the markeplace as we do today. We encourage you to visit a web
site dedicated to the work of Coville and White at the Whitesbog
Over the decades, plant breeders
and pathologists have worked to identify and enhance the desirable
features of various cultivars of highbush blueberries. For decades
"cultivated" or "highbush" blueberries have
been improved through natural selection and plant breeding programs
to produce an optimal blueberry with desirable flavor, texture and
color for fresh and processed markets. Cultivated varieties have
been enhanced to offer magnificent plump berries with deep, rich
color and a delicious fruity flavor. These plant breeding programs
have resulted in the development of superior berries both for the
consumer and the food processing industry. Our industry owes a great
gratitude to the many agriculturalists in the USA and abroad who
have pioneered the development of the US Highbush Blueberry industry!
North America is the world's leading blueberry producer,
accounting for nearly 90% of world production at the present
time. The North American harvest runs from mid-April through
early October, with peak harvest in July which is also
known as National Blueberry Month. Highbush blueberries
are perennial, long-lived, deciduous, woody shrubs. They
belong to the family Ericaceae, which also includes such
plants as cranberry, azalea, rhododendron, and heather.
Like the other ericaceous plants, blueberries thrive in
acid soils and do best in soils with a pH between 4 and
5. Cultivars require from 120 to 160 growing degree days
to ripen fruit. Blueberry plants flower in spring, with
flowers at the tip of canes and the tip of the cluster
opening first. They are pollinated by bees. Fruit
development occurs for about 2 to
3 months after bloom, depending on cultivar, weather, and plant
vigor. Sugar content of fruit will increase during maturation to
about 15 percent when fruit is ripe. Yields can be as high as 20
tons per acre (T/A), although yields of 7 to 8 T/A are typical of
mature plantings. (growing resource)
The Modern Highbush Blueberry Industry
Today, the highbush blueberry is
grown commercially in more than 38 states and provinces of Canada.
Highbush blueberry industries have also developed in South America,
Australia, New Zealand and Europe and according to the United Nations
Food & Agricultural Organization, more than 42,000 metric tons
are harvested each year. Although the USA and Canada are the largest
producers and consumers of blueberries, the market around the world
is also on the rise with Japan in particular becoming a blueberry
The Blueberry industry is segmented into two major
||Fresh Market Blueberries
||Processed Market Blueberries
Delicious fresh blueberries are a summertime treat and
tradition in North America. You may now notice fresh blueberries
on the shelves year round as well thanks to production
in the Southern Hemisphere. About 50 percent of all blueberries
produced are dedicated to the fresh market. The harvest
starts in Florida in the Early Spring and Ends in British
Columbia Canada in October and sometimes later. Blueberry
are grown in rows that are cultivated year round to produce
sweet and plump berries. When the berry is a deep blue
color, the blueberries are carefully hand picked and rushed
to nearby packing houses. They are chilled, and rushed
to markets in nearby cities and off to air fright around
the world. In fact, did you know that the North American
Industry ships more
than 100 metric tons of fresh blueberries each
year to Iceland, and more than 500 metric tons to Japan. The
blueberries are packed in plastic trays of different sizes and
are normally in your market within hours of harvest! In the
winter -- you will find fresh blueberries from South America
and Australia and New Zealand which are air freighted across
the globe to your local market. (Take a photo
tour of a blueberry operation) Feel like picking your own
blueberries? A number of blueberry farmers open their farms
to what are called U-pick operations. Check out our U-pick Page
for details on pick your own blueberries!
Blueberries are processed in a number of
different forms for availability year round and as ingredients
for the food processing industry. Blueberry fields are grown
in long straight rows and the plants are trained into shapes
that fit harvesting. Although some processed blueberries
are hand picked, a majority are mechanically harvested with
specially designed blueberry harvesters. There are several
varieties, but for the most part the concept
is simple: A machine is driven or towed through
the field and mechanical rods shake the plants to drop the blueberries
into buckets or conveyors. The machines must go through the field
art different times as blueberries do not ripen at the same time.
Bins of harvested blueberries are rushed to nearby processing
plants where they are dedicated to different market channels.
Blueberries are packed in water or syrup or
are prepared into shelf stable pie fillings and sauces. (technical
Ripe blueberries are
immediately frozen in a number of methods. (technical specifics)
Individually Quick Frozen Blueberries (IQF),
are flash frozen at extremely low temperatures. This gives
the blueberry an individual fruit identity. This product
is packed into cello bags for the retail market or else
packed in poly lined cardboard containers for the food industry.
(ie baking confectionery, ice creams.)
||Block Frozen Blueberries (BQF).
Blueberries are placed in containers and then are frozen.
This product is used for food processing where fruit identity
is not required.
Dried: Fresh or frozen
blueberries are dehydrated in a number of methods to produce
a dried fruit for the retail snack and also food processing
industry. (technical specifics)
Fresh or frozen blueberries re dehydrated with hot air to reduce
the moisture level to around 18%. Most dried blueberries are
first infused with a sugar solution to give it more weight and pliability.
||Osmoticaly Dried Blueberries.
Blueberries are infused with a syrup to push out moisture in what
is called an osmotic dehydration process. The product is shelf
stable and moist.
||Freeze Dried. Blueberries
are quick frozen and dehydrated to get moisture down to around 2-4%.
The freeze dried blueberry maintains its shape and color and is ideal
for cereals and snack foods.
Drum Dried. Blueberries
and blueberry juice is dried and tumbled in hot air to produce a
Specialty Products - Blueberries are showing up in more and
more specialty food products because they add value and are in
consumer demand! Check out the list of specialty
products that contain real blueberries. (real products
Blueberries are processed into a number of liquid forms
for use in beverages and dairy products. This includes single
strength blueberry juice, blueberry purees and concentrates
of different brix levels. (technical specifics)
Everyone loves blueberries. Each day, while new research
is introduced on the goodness of this little fruit, they
are becoming more and more popular. Today, blueberries are
available year round as blueberries and also as products
Fresh Blueberries - Fresh blueberries are available year
round form your local grocer. If they are not available
-- ask for them! (harvest
Frozen Blueberries - Frozen IQF blueberries are available
year round in your freezer case. Yes, they do contain the
beneficial vitamins and minerals of the fresh berry as well
as beneficial antioxidants
Blueberry- Containing Products -- Blueberries are used in
hundreds of products ranging from the traditional pies to
new sauces and and entrees. Make sure to look for real blueberries
in these products as there are imposters out there! Check
out the USHBC products section to see some great real blueberry
products available in your store! (products
Export Usage - Blueberries are everywhere. From Iceland to
Japan, consumer demand is sky high as information on the
health and nutrition benefits of blueberries is received
and understood. The blueberry industry has experienced explosive
growth in the export markets, and new products are proliferating.
Some of these product ideas are finding their way back tot
he USA and are stimulating new product development in North
America. Check out our gallery of blueberry- containing
products from around the world! (view
Specialty Products - Blueberries are showing up in more and
more specialty food products because they add value and
are in consumer demand! Check out the list of specialty
products that contain real blueberries. (real
The US Highbush Blueberry Council actively
promotes the consumption of highbush or cultivated blueberries.
Activities are funded by an assessment from blueberries
grown in the USA and those imported into the USA.
(USHBC background) Contact
your local blueberry supplier for prices, availability and
Sales and distribution of blueberries is conducted by individuals,
companies and firms.
farm sales and u-pick farms.
processors handlers and packers
and Sellers and distributors including foodservice and
USDA Blueberry Production Information
Check out the "Commodity Highlight" in Fruit
and Tree Nuts Outlook/FTS-305/July 30, 2003, p. 12-16.
The New Frontier!
Blueberries are becoming more and
more popular each day as new research discloses the health and
nutrient benefits. Visit the USHBC web site Health and Nutrition
to view the very latest news on the goodness of blueberries!
History Timeline, Morris County Library. A
timeline of food gathering and preparation.
Ethnobotany Database, U. of Michigan Dearborne. Features
a searchable database of medicinal ues of plant substances
(including blueberries) in North America. (visit)
Research Service (ARS) Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical
Database. The most comprehensive data base on
health benefits of plant substances. (visit)