bilberry, bog blueberries, dwarf blueberries, early leaf blueberry, highbush blueberries, huckleberry, oval leaf blueberry, V. caespitosum, V. corymbosum, V. ovalifolium, V. uliginosum, whortleberry, wild blueberries
I realize that I am bombarding you with posts on wild berries this past month. However, for many, berry picking is an important part of living in harmony with the seasons. When the berries are ripe, everything that can wait is put on hold while the berries get picked. As various berries have been steadily ripening over the past six weeks, berry picking (and preserving the harvest) has become an enjoyable part of my daily ‘chores’ and that is why I often write about it. Berry picking time is precious, and once the rose hips, high- and low bush cranberries have come and gone, the wild berry picking season will be over until next summer.
Berry picking is a great lesson in cultivating mindfulness in my own life. Watching for optimal ripeness promotes a greater awareness of the wild plants around me; the picking of the berries become an exercise in slowing down as it is difficult to pick berries quickly without losing them; and berry picking fully immerses me in nature and helps me open up to the whole experience… the beautiful colors of the berries and leaves, the smells, the textures, the sounds in the forests (there was a bear sighted just up the road four days ago so I am really paying attention to the sounds lately!), noticing the interesting birds and insects that cross my path, and of course the delicious tastes as I sample a few of the ripe berries, juicy and warmed by the sun.
I had been wondering if there were any wild blueberries growing nearby when just last week, a gentleman came by and introduced himself as K, one of the sons of the couple that built this cabin, about 38 years ago. (His family still owns the 150 aces of protected land behind the cabin and the previous week I met his younger brother, R, who also shared many stories. Hi guys!) K and I got chatting about the wild plants in this area and he asked me if I had found the wild blueberries yet? I immediately got excited and admitted that I hadn’t. I asked him where they grow and he took me just a short distance into the woods and pointed out the dense patch of low-growing shrubs. Sadly, there were no berries. However, the following evening as Lucy and I were returning from our hike, I found a few shrubs that had ripe berries on it, and the following day I found even more! At last… wild blueberries!
There are over 20 species in the genus Vaccinium which are native to Canada and the United States. These include dwarf blueberries (V. caespitosum), bog blueberries (V. uliginosum), early leaf (or oval leaf) blueberry (V. ovalifolium) and highbush blueberries (V. corymbosum). Wild blueberries are also known as huckleberry, whortleberry, bilberry, or bog bilberry. These shrubs grow in a variety of habitats, from damp, shaded coastal areas to high mountain areas. They prefer open, sunny locations with plenty of soil moisture. The berries may grow singly or in clusters, and they are juicy, sweet and full of flavor.
According to Bennett (1991) and Powers & Stewart (1995), Indigenous peoples sometimes practiced controlled burning of select areas in order to maintain an optimum habitat for blueberries and other food plants.
Both the berries and leaves can be used. The best time to harvest the leaves is before the plant produces the berries.
Nutritional and Medicinal Information:
Fruits that are dark blue or red in color, such as bilberries, blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, and huckleberries, tend to be rich in anthocyanosides, compounds that are especially beneficial for the eyes.
Blueberries are rich in lutein, vitamin C, anthocyanosides, and other bioflavonoids which strengthens blood vessels and are necessary for capillary (vein) health and are also good for the heart. They are rich in antioxidants which help improve neurological function and slow the effects of aging. Blueberries contain essential fatty acids (EFAs) which are good for your skin. (Note: EFAs cannot be manufactured by the body and must be obtained through our diets.) Eating blueberries have also been linked to improvements in short term memory. I find it interesting that wild berries contain more benefits than domestic berries.
According to Beverly Gray (2011), “Blueberries are also touted as having excellent anti-inflammatory properties because they contain polyphenols and anthocyanins that help reduce chronic inflammation in the body and have been linked to the prevention of cancer.” She adds that blueberry leaves are used to treat gastrointestinal ailments, such as diarrhea and upset stomachs, for lowering blood sugar in type 2 diabetes, and topically to prevent skin infections.
Add them to smoothies.
Dry them and use instead of raisons. (I love adding dried blueberries to my hot cereal. You can buy dried wild blueberries at your local health food store.)
Cook into a paste and make fruit leather.
Use fresh or dried in salads, sauces, desserts, jellies, jams, muffins, pies, etc.
Wash the berries, removing leaves and stems. Place in saucepan with enough water to cover. Simmer just long enough for the fruit to break up and mash (with a potato masher or wooden spoon) to release the juice. Strain through a cheesecloth or jelly bag. Add honey and a few drops of almond extract, if desired. Chill and enjoy!
Wild Berry Tea
Pour 3 cups boiling water over ½ cup blueberries, fresh or dried. Steep for 10-15 minutes. Add honey to taste.
Wild Berry Leaf Tea
Steep a handful of crushed green leaves in 2 cups boiling water. Steep longer for a stronger flavor
Sending warm blueberry thoughts and wishes your way as I enjoy this wild blueberry tea…
Bennett, J. (1991). Berries. Camden House: Camden East, ON.
Brown, D. (2001). Herbal: The essential guide to herbs for living. Pavilion: London.
Gladstar, R. (2001). Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health: 175 teas, tonics, oils, salves, tinctures, and other Natural Remedies for the Entire Family. Storey Publishing, North Adams, MA.
Gray, B. (2011). The boreal herbal: wild food and medicine plants of the north; a guide to harvesting, preserving, and preparing. Aroma Borealis Press: Whitehorse, Yukon.
Powers, M.J., & Stewart, A. (1995). Northern bounty: A celebration of Canadian cuisine. Random House of Canada: Toronto, ON
Stewart, H. (1982). Drink in the wild: Teas, cordials, jams and more. Douglas & McIntyre: Toronto, ON.