Blueberries (Vaccinium spp.)

Blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) were originally a wild crop, growing in cold swamps in northern America and Europe. They were introduced to Australia in the 1960s and grow on bushes in clusters. Unlike other berries, they do not continue to ripen after picking. The pigments that color the fruit are also those that provide antioxidant effects and these days berries are hailed as a “super food”.
Until recently you could only grow good blueberries in cold climates. Now there are blueberry varieties that can grow in regions as far up as the tropics. The Rabbit’s Eye variety, also known as Brightwell, is hardy, offers a large harvest, and is ideal For the home garden.
Misty is one of the most attractive blueberries, with bluish-green leaves that contrast with striking pink-and-white spring flowers. You can get an even bigger harvest when planted with other varieties. It's a favorite in the subtropics and produces good-size Fruit with delicious flavor. It will do extremely well in pots.
The Gulf Coast is another variety that tolerates low-chill environments well, while a good cool-climate option is the Blue Rose blueberry.
There is a wide variety or blueberries available so be sure to choose one that matches your patch.

Your healing blueberries
Blueberry’s cousin, the European Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtilus) came to prominence during World War II when British pilots Flying night missions over Germany Found they could see better when they had been eating bilberry jam. Subsequent research has supported the Fact that antioxidants known as anthocyanms, From the bilberry, help the retina to support night vision and it's likely antioxidant-rich blueberry cousins around the world have similar beneFits. Further research has shown what else blueberries can do For you besides helping your eyes.

Blueberries and blood pressure
Researchers from Harvard and East Anglia Universities examined data From 181,000 adults over a 14-year period. All those involved were Free of high blood pressure at the start of the study (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition). Every two years the participants completed questionnaires about their health and eating habits. During the course of the study. 35.000 participants developed high blood pressure. Analysis of the data showed people who consumed high levels of antioxidant nutrients known as anthocyanins had an eight per cent reduction in their chances of developing high blood pressure compared to those who consumed low levels of anthocyanins.
The best source ofanthocyanins in the diets of those in the study was tea. but the best Food source was blueberries, Followed by orange juice, apples, red wine and strawberries. Blueberries did stand out. however, and people who ate a serving of blueberries once a week were 10 per cent less likely to develop high blood pressure than those who never ate them.

Berry young brains
Blueberries and strawberries have been shown to keep your brain young 

Blue memories
As mentioned above, blueberries contain anthocyanins that are anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Aside from their general health benefits, animal studies have suggested they increase neuron-to-neuron communication in the brain, improve glucose use in the brain, and are involved in memory Function. You might expect, then, that blueberries would have a beneficial impact on memory loss in humans, so researchers asked a group of people in their 70s. who were showing early signs of memory loss, to drink two-and-a-half Cups of commercial blueberry juice daily For 12 weeks. Those who had drunk the blueberry juice showed improved paired associate word learning and improved word list recall. There was also a trend towards reduced depressive symptoms and lower glucose levels. Again, the blueberry drinkers did better than a group drinking a placebo. The results suggest blueberry juice, and probably blueberries, may be a way to ward off memory loss (Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry).

Blueberries lower cholesterol
In a study published in the journal Sleep Medicine, a group of hamsters was fed a high- fat diet. They were then divided into three groups. One group had blueberry skins added to their diet; that is. the portion left over when a blueberry is juiced. Another group was given fiber
extracted from blueberry peel, and a third group was given polyphenols From blueberry peel. The study was designed in this way to attempt to establish which part of the blueberry peel, if any. might exert an effect. The results showed that all of the three groups of hamsters that were fed blueberry by-products had total cholesterol levels that were between 22 and 27 per cent lower than hamsters which were given no blueberry at all in their diet. Additionally, levels of very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL — a bad form of cholesterol) were about 44 per cent lower in all blueberry-fed hamsters. This does not tell us what part of the blueberry is having the effect, but analysis by the researchers did suggest how it was being done.
Using a genetic test called real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT- PCR), the researchers established that the blueberry was switching off genes in the liver that either make cholesterol or use cholesterol. The net result: lower cholesterol.

Blueberries fight fat
Of all its many health benefits, and given the modern problems with obesity, if blueberries can fight fat, they may deserve that overused title of a “superfood" In a new study from the journal Experimental Biology, researchers extracted the polyphenols from blueberries and used them on tissue cultures of fat cells taken from mice. The polyphenols were found to have two significant effects. First, the fat cells that were exposed to them differentiated to a lesser degree than other fat cells, so there were less fat cells. Second, the fat content of each cell among the exposed cells was significantly lower than among other fat cells. The highest dose of blueberry phenols yielded a 73 per cent reduction in fats.
Given the scrumptious nature of these blue bits of natures bounty, there is no reason not to include them in your organic garden.

Grow Your Blueberries
When to plant: Best planted in autumn or winter.

Climate: Best suited to cooler climates. In warmer zones gardeners should seek out low-chill cultivars as described above.
Aspect/placement : Likes full sun and protection from strong winds. 

Specific needs: Can be fussy but needs a light, friable acidic soil with plenty of added organic matter and manure. Blueberries are unlikely to thrive in heavy clay but do well in pots. Fertilize after harvest and again in spring before flowering. Use decomposed poultry manure. Mulch well to protect shallow roots and retain moisture. Blueberries don’t like drying out or having wet feet. Avoid overhead sprinklers; ground-level watering systems will help prevent fungal rot.

Harvesting: Blueberries start flowering in early spring. Depending on the variety and the climate, expect to harvest from late spring to early summer. Clusters of fruit appear on the bush but don't always ripen at once. Pick the largest and darkest in color. Tickle the fruit and it should fall into your hand; then sample to evaluate ripeness. Net the bushes to protect fruit from birds, which like them too.

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