Now is time for wild blueberries
LAKE COUNTY — Wild blueberries are a woodland treat enjoyed by people and animals alike. Wild blueberries are packed with flavor, making the hours spent picking the berries well worth the effort for homemade blueberry pie or blueberry pancakes.
Berry picking enthusiasts keep a close eye on weather conditions throughout the year leading up to the blueberry season to determine if it will be a good year for the berries, which thrive with periodical rains and warm temperatures. Late frosts and dry conditions hinder the season.
The elements came together to make this a decent year for blueberry picking in the woods of Lake County.
Although the berries are spotty and scattered in some locations, where there are bushes, there are generally a few berries. In other locations, local residents are making out well.
Baldwin resident Pam-Tripp Simmons hit the jackpot earlier this month while she and her husband took a nature detour on their way home from a summer concert in Baldwin.
"We stopped at the first sign of blueberry bushes, got out, and they were everywhere," she said. "It was getting dark and we weren't prepared, so we had no containers. We just drove the forest trails. If we couldn't find a bush with three or more berries to a clump and several clumps to a bush, we drove a little forward."
Simmons has been busy picking in the area she found, and put up 30 quarts of wild blueberries, not including what she has given away.
"There are still berries ripening, but some are drying up on the bush because of the lack of rain. We also found if there are a lot of bracken fern and sweet fern, you don't see many bushes. I feel about our spot like some people do about their special fishing hole or their secret morel patch. All these wonderful gifts are there for the discovery by critters and people."
Beth Ann Blass-Murphy, also from Baldwin, agrees it is a good season for the berries, reminding her of seasons during her childhood.
"I remember my father coming home from a day surveying in the woods with his pith helmet full of blueberries," she said.
In addition to wild blueberries being more packed with flavor than domesticated blueberries, they also are known for their health attributes. Blueberries are low in calories and high in fiber, vitamins C and K and antioxidants including anthocyans.
The plant pigments and other compounds are said to have anti-inflammatory properties.
“The blueberry by itself is a cut above almost any other fruit because it has such a complex biochemical profile, and so many interacting phytochemicals that hit human therapeutic targets,” said Mary Ann Lila, director of the Plants for Human Health Institute at North Carolina State University, in research.
A Department of Agriculture analysis from 2010 analyzed antioxidant values in different fruits, vegetables and spices and found blueberries had some of the highest antioxidant values of commonly consumed fresh fruit, and gram for gram, wild blueberries contained double the antioxidants of farm-raised blueberries.
Among all of these positive attributes to wild blueberries, the opportunity to get out in nature and spend time picking with friends or family is an all-around enjoyable and tasty way to spend the summer season.