The American blueberry (Vaccinium) has long been recognized for its flavor, nutrition, and health benefits. Early settlers valued the blueberry as a major ingredient in foods and medicines. They ate blueberries off the bush and added them to soups, stews, and other foods.
Native Americans in colonial times gathered blueberries for winter storage. They dried the fruit and combined it with cornmeal, honey, and water to make a delicate pudding known as “Sautauthig.” The juice of blueberries was also used for medicinal purposes: to treat coughs, as a relaxant during childbirth, and to combat the “runs” thanks to a substance contained in the berries called anthocyanin. This substance has mild antibiotic properties, especially against intestinal bacteria that cause diarrhea.
Scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Center have found that blueberries rank No. 1 in antioxidant benefits, compared to 40 other fresh fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants help neutralize harmful “free radicals” that can lead to cancer and other age-related diseases. The total antioxidant capacity of blueberries (24 mcgmol Trolox equivalents per gram) is twice that of spinach and three times that of oranges. This extraordinary fruit is also rich in pectin, a soluble fiber that has been shown in several research studies to be effective in lowering cholesterol.
Blueberries are available year-round in many forms including fresh, frozen, juice, puree, concentrate, and dried. Fresh blueberries are higher in vitamins A and C than frozen or canned. A cup of blueberries provides nearly a third of the RDA for vitamin C. It would appear that most of the vitamin C is lost as a result of freezing and canning.