Wild low-bush blueberry with the scientific name Vaccinium angustifolium is a species of blueberry indigenous to eastern and central Canada and the northeastern United States. It is a low-spreading deciduous shrub growing 5 to 60 cm (2 to 24 in) tall. The leaves are shining blue-green in summer, turning a variety of reds in the fall. The leaf shape is broad to elliptical. Buds are brownish red in stem axils. The flowers are bell-shaped, white, 4 to 6 mm (0.16 to 0.24 in) long.
The fruit is small, sweet dark blue or blackberry, full of antioxidants and flavonoids. This plant thrives best in wooded areas, old deserted farmyards, or open fields with well-drained acidic soils. In some areas, it develops natural blueberry barrens.
The Vaccinium angustifolium plant is tolerant to fire. Its numbers often rise in an area following a forest fire. Generally, blueberry growers burn their fields every few years to eradicate shrubs and fertilize the soil.
Superfruit with many health benefits
That sweet, sharp taste is not the only reason to add wild blueberries to your morning smoothie recipe. For the consumer, the most notable difference between wild and cultivated blueberries seemingly lies in nutritional content. Not only can you get more fruit servings per pound from the wild berries, but you also get more nutrition. Although all blueberries contain antioxidants, wild blueberries own nearly twice as many health-boosting antioxidants as their cultivated counterparts.
Research suggests that the secret is in the skin, where there is the highest concentration of the antioxidant anthocyanin. This high concentration comes from the adaptation of the fruit to the cold temperatures and harsh climate of Maine and Canada. The hardiness needed to survive these climates makes them naturally richer in anthocyanin than cultivated berries.
The antioxidants in the berry help fight compounds called free radicals, which can cause cancer, heart disease, and premature aging. In a USDA study, wild blueberries have the highest level of antioxidants out of 40 fruits and vegetables.
Wild blueberries are also a good source of Vitamin C and dietary fiber. You can enjoy the free-radical neutralizing benefits of these superfruits at just 80 calories a cup. They contain no fat, sodium, or cholesterol. Tannins in wild blueberries and cranberries can also prevent the bacteria that cause urinary tract infections, allowing them to pass through the body without causing any harm.
Top fruit export of Canada and the northeastern United States
The low-bush blueberry is native to Canada, Maine, and Massachusetts and grown commercially there, mainly harvested from managed wild patches. Wild blueberries have staked a claim as the number one fruit export in Canada. The United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, and the United States have insatiable desires for wild blueberries, making export sales worth $100-million for Nova Scotia alone.
In Maine and bordering regions of Canada, thousands of acres of wild blueberries naturally grow. In some towns, local supporters take time off work to harvest them. Most wild blueberry fields are still family-owned. It has become a part of their heritage, a way of life.
Possibly one of the most natural crops in North America, wild blueberries have an appeal that extends far beyond the borders of Maine and Eastern Canada. The low-bush blueberry is the state fruit of Maine, and the wild low-bush blueberry is also the Nova Scotian Provincial Berry. Oxford, a town in Nova Scotia, has the nickname Wild Blueberry Capital of Canada. Nova Scotia exports wild blueberries to the United States, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, and other countries.
The valuable frozen wild blueberries
Fresh wild blueberries are hard to come by for two reasons. First, wild blueberries season is nearly short, lasting a few weeks from late August into early September. Second, unless you are in regions of Canada where the harvest takes place, distance is the problem. But no need to be worried because wild blueberries are as good frozen as they are fresh. None of the berries’ nutritional values or antioxidant goodness decrease by freezing, and they’ll keep well for up to two years.
The Individual Quick Freezing (IQF) process works ideally for wild low-bush blueberries. Once farmers harvest the blueberries, most suppliers utilize the Individual Quick Freezing or IQF process, which locks in this nutrition at the optimal stage. Blueberries freeze within 24 hours of harvest at the height of nutrient value. Frozen wild blueberries are available throughout the year for both food manufacturers and consumers.
Some berries are fresh-packed during crop season and sold at farm shops and grocery stores. There is 100% pure wild blueberry juice on the market. People make a wide variety of food products such as blueberry smoothies, blueberry sauce for waffles, blueberry grunt, blueberry lemon loaf, blueberry crisp, blueberry muffins, blueberry jam, blueberry martinis. Great for a topping on cereal or yogurt.
Before freezing, berries are sorted, cleaned, and graded for attributes like character and size. The USDA has set an A-B-C grading scale based on physical characteristics like color, texture, and any visible defects, with Grade A possessing the most aesthetically appealing ones. The berries are also microbiologically tested. The quality control practices and agricultural programs guarantee food safety.
Differences between wild blueberries and other cultivated blueberries
Cultivated blueberries take thorough preparation and planting, whereas wild blueberries grow freely in fields and rocky hills called barrens. No one plants wild blueberries as they grow naturally.
Since wild blueberries grow on their own, they are a low-maintenance plant. Field owners are hands-off during most of the growing season. Although they often introduce bees to pollinate the bushes. Owners prune fields every other year with rotary mowers because wild blueberries have a two-year crop cycle.
Cultivated blueberries are commonly uniform in their size, color, and taste. Wild blueberries are smaller in size than cultivated ones. They also vary in color ranging from different hues of blue to almost black. Taste varies from mild to very sweet.
3. Genetic composition
Those differences in taste, color, and size are due to genetic diversity. As mentioned before, wild blueberries grow naturally, not planted or tampered with by people. Therefore, wild blueberries have no genetic engineering, providing a diverse crop. The uniformity of cultivated blueberries results from careful breeding and farming methods.
When you think of a blueberry bush, you may think of a cultivated blueberry bush. They stand in straight lines and tower over people. These belong to “high bush.”
Wild blueberry bushes belong to “low-bush.” They spread low and wide through runners, haphazardly covering fields. Harvesters have to kneel to reach them.
Because of the low-bush and frequently rocky terrain, many wild blueberries fields hard to be harvested with a traditional machine and must be hand-harvested. Hand-harvesters use rakes to scoop berries off the bushes, going in an upward motion. The harvest usually begins in late July and finishes in early September.