Blueberries Bilberries Huckleberries Oh Yum!

July is National Blueberry Month.  The “occasion” must have been started by someone in the more northern climes: we’ve had blueberries for nearly a month, here.

Blueberries are a close relative of bilberries (or huckleberries or whortleberries … pick your name).  They are all of the Genus Vaccinium and have essentially the same uses. And are all very yummy and nutritious fruits, by the way. Although science hasn’t proven what has been known for centuries, the bilberry has been used medicinally in Europe since the Middle Ages. Like most fruits, bilberries are high in Vitamin C and were used extensively to treat scurvy. The antiseptic, astringent and diuretic actions are quite possibly the reason Vaccinium has been used to treat atherosclerosis, diarrhea, stomach ulcers and a host of eye problems, including glaucoma and retinopathy. A wash made from an infusion of the leaves will help clear hemorrhoids quickly.

Blueberries are high in anthocyanin pigments, which are antioxidants. Researchers are currently studying these as possible treatments for cancer, aging and neurological disorders, inflammation, diabetes and bacterial infections. Further research is focusing on a leaf decoction to lower blood sugar levels in Type II diabetics.

We mustn’t forget the magical applications for blueberries! They are great for protection and hex-breaking. If you think you’re under an attack of some kind head for the kitchen. Eat a handful of blueberries or utilize your baking skills to make a blueberry pie or tart to consume as soon as it’s cool enough to eat. Don’t have fresh berries on hand? Blueberry jam (made without preservatives) on a piece of bread will suffice.

Blueberries are easily grown in most climates, although they don’t like it if your winter temperatures get below -20F. You can even get smaller plants that will grow in pots so you can bring them indoors over the winter. They usually start producing fruit after the third year so at that time, be sure you protect your plants from the birds, who like the fruit as much as you! Even if you simply purchase the fruit at your local grocer, look for the fruits with the purplish meat, which is considerably higher in antioxidants than the “American” blueberry, which is white or pink under the skin.

For me, blueberries are a standard 4th of July treat. Add some strawberries and a dollop of whipped cream and the dish starts looking rather patriotic. It doesn’t last long, though!