Little Blue Jewels !!

   Blueberries, one of the few fruits native to North America.

It seems like I never get tired of overpaying for organic blueberries. Truth, is there anything more delicious to the eye, the taste, and the soul than a bowl of fresh picked blueberries? Blueberries grow in many places around the world. Cousins of the North American blueberry live in Asia, Europe, and South America, from the tropics to far north. Blueberries were here when the first wave of settlers arrived. In 1615, explorer Samuel de Champlain wrote about seeing natives along Lake Huron harvesting wild blueberries.

The natives dried the berries, beat them into a pulp, and dried them into a powder. Which they combined with cornmeal, honey and water to make a pudding. Native Americans used the berries, leaves, and roots for medicinal purposes. The fruit was also used as a blue fabric dye. The native Americans held the wild blueberry in very high esteem. They believed the "Great Spirit" sent these star berries to relieve the hunger of children during times of famine. Natives also used blueberries for medicine, and made a healing tea from the root. It was used as a  relaxant during childbirth. Natives taught this to the pilgrims, and early medical books show how this same tea was prescribed for settlers wives during labor. Blueberry juice was used for coughs, and tea made from blueberry leaves is a good tonic to help purify the blood.

Guess who else likes blueberries, anyone?... Bears, that's who, and I have had the experience, of blundering into a close encounter with some bears while wild blueberry picking. This is a very humbling experience. Sometimes I was told, wild bears will eat nothing but blueberries when they are in season. That in fact, it has been documented that they will travel with an empty stomach, from ten to fifteen miles per day to sniff out a blueberry patch. The blueberry harvest in North America varies. It can start as early as May and usually ends in late summer. The principle areas of commercial production are in the Southern Hemisphere, Australia, Chile, New Zealand, and Argentina. Here in southern California we are lucky to have this little "power plant" year round.

Did you know eating blueberries can help improve your vision, make your blood flow  easier, and lower your cholesterol. Blueberries are packed with antioxidant power, they fight disease on multiple levels, and are an underused tool for good health. Blueberries owe some of their health benefits to the high levels of naturally occurring antioxidant phytonutrients, or flavonoids that offer protection from oxidative damage. That is responsible for many age-related diseases such as cancer, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, weakening of eyesight, and memory among others. Blueberry juice, and fresh blueberries can also help fight urinary tract infections. Blueberries are also beneficial for your brain. On a test tube level, we know blueberry antioxidants activate two brain-protective enzymes, catalase and superoxide dismutase. These are the enzymes that keep neurons from being deactivated after they are attacked by free radicals.

Scientists at the Montreal Diabetes Research Center, and the University of Montreal in Canada even believe that blueberry juice will be the source of treatments for Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and age-related memory problems, and that eating blueberries can offer similar benefits now. Also, Blueberries can help curb obesity, a recent study reports. The study was conducted at Texas Woman's University. The lipid content in the control group was significantly higher than the content of the tissue given three doses of blueberry polyphenols. The highest dose of blueberry polyphenols yielded a 73% decrease in blood lipids. While the lowest dose still showed a 27% decrease. According to Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, blueberries have the highest antioxidant level of all fruit. All berries for that matter won, hands down, in providing the most antioxidant bang for the buck. Their statement is that; "Antioxidants help prevent cancer and slow down aging, by dispensing of free radicals in your body." "Blueberries also promote urinary tract health, eye health, brain health, and digestive health." Blueberries are also a healthy source of vitamin C, magnesium, fiber, and vitamin E.

Ronald Prior, PhD, a chemist and nutritionist with the USDA's Arkansas Nutrition Center, explains "bio-availability  has to do with the amount of absorption, or metabolism in the gut." Dr. Prior added that some foods even benefit from a bit of cooking. One of his studies showed that by mildly steaming blueberries, the antioxidant level was enhanced, making more antioxidants available to the body. Wild blueberries are the winner overall. Just one cup has 13,427 total antioxidants. That's about 10 times the USDA's recommendation, in just one cup. Cultivated blueberries have 9,019 per cup and are equally vitamin-rich. At a 2007 symposium on berry health benefits, reports showed consumption of blueberries, and similar berry fruits may alleviate the cognitive decline occurring in Alzheimer's disease, and other conditions of aging. Proanthocyanidin, a chemical isolated from blueberry leaves, can block replication of the hepatitis C virus. Dr. Arpita Basu, an assistant professor of nutrition at Oklahoma State University, showed in several laboratory-based animal, and cell studies that anthocyanins, found in blueberries, cause blood vessels to relax, and increase production of nitric oxide that helps in maintaining normal blood pressure. Research at Rutgers has also shown that blueberries may help prevent urinary tract infections. A study soon to be published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found supplementation of diets with wild blueberry juice enhanced memory and learning in older adults, while reducing blood sugar, and some symptoms of depression.

BEWARE !! In June 2013 the Environmental Working Group rated pesticides in blueberries a significant concern, based on the most recent USDA laboratory test data. Domestic US blueberries were scored at number 10/12 in the "Dirty Dozen" list of fruits with the most pesticide residue in the supermarket. Imported variety's were better, 23 out of 53 rated fruits and vegetables. So like I always say buy ORGANIC ! It is near to impossible to remove pesticide residues completely from fruit. Pesticides and herbicides are formulated to stick to the fruit so they won't wash off in the rain.

There is no downside to eating plain organic blueberries, except that if you eat enough to make a black bear jealous, your digestive tract is going to slow down to handle all the pectin. Now here's one downside, blueberries don't mix well with the casein protein in milk, ice cream etc. it blocks the antioxidant absorption much the same way it does in green tea. Free Radical Biology and Medicine investigated whether antioxidant properties of blueberries were reduced because of their affinity for protein. They assessed the bioavailability of phenolics after consumption of blueberries with and without milk. Phenolics are the active compounds in plants that give blueberries their antioxidant potential. This study suggests that the best way to gain maximum benefits from blueberries and other fruits eaten for their polyphenol (anti-oxident) content is to consume them either one hour before protein is consumed, or two hours after. This does not affect the vitamin benefits however. Up to a quarter cup of delicious blueberries every day for kids and up to a whole cup of blueberries every day for adults offers all the benefits of blueberries in a delicious experience. One of the major attractions of blueberries is that they are tasty all by themselves, no sweetener needed. If you have room in your garden try your own blueberry bush from the local nursery! So who doesn't want to look younger, and be healthier. Blueberries can be purchased at farm markets, pick-your-own farms, grocery stores or buy your own bush. Not able to purchase fresh berries? No problem. Frozen fruit is just as healthy as fresh fruit. Check out the selection in the frozen section of your local grocery store. Good Luck...

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