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July 8, 2013

Versatile, nutritious fruit provides interesting tale

TERRE HAUTE — Standing on his farm, Aaron Warner picked a bunch of round, small, blue fruits from a bush and held them on his open palm.

These blueberry fruits, although small, come with a big story.

Blueberries most commonly bloom in the spring. In the summer, Americans can easily find them at stores and farmers markets — sold by growers like Warner.

And it is easy to find buyers because blueberries are not only versatile but also nutritious.

“It’s [blueberry] so versatile … and it’s perfect for serving,” said Warner, who is on the board of the Terre Haute Downtown Farmers Market.

He called the blueberry versatile because it is a fruit that people can use in a variety of meals. He said people can use blueberries as an appetizer, beverage, as part of a main course, or dessert.

Warner said that dried blueberries are especially good.

“Try them and try them different, creative ways,” he urged.

The versatile fruit can be enjoyed with various foods and meals, but experts recommend enjoying them raw.

According to The World’s Healthiest Foods, a website run by the nonprofit The George Mateljan Foundation, “ … like other fruits, raw blueberries provide you with the best flavor and greatest nutritional benefits.”

Warner, who serves on the board of Terre Foods Cooperative Market, also spoke of where this nutrition comes from.

“It’s a very nutritious fruit. Most of the nutrition is in the skin. … The smaller the berry (with more skin), the more nutritious it is,” the biology teacher at Terre Haute South Vigo High School said.

Scientists have studied the nutritional benefits of blueberries.

A 2010 study found that blueberries can help boost memory. In examining the connection between blueberries and memory, researchers at the University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center found improvement in the memory function of older adults experiencing early memory decline after they consistently supplemented their diet with the juice of wild blueberries for a number of weeks.

Another study, released in the same year, found that blueberries support heart health.

In a study funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, researchers in Arkansas fed mice diets enhanced with freeze-dried blueberry powder for 20 weeks.

They found “the first direct evidence that blueberries may help fight atherosclerosis, also known as hardening of the arteries,” according to a news release.

“Atherosclerosis is the leading cause of two forms of cardiovascular disease — heart attacks and strokes. Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of Americans,” the Department of Agriculture release said.

In addition to preventing heart diseases and memory loss, blueberries may also help with aging.

Dr. Leo Galland wrote in a 2011 article for “Healthy Living” at Huffington Post, that “the color of blueberries, from deep blue to purple, is caused by a group of flavonoids called anthocyanins, which have remarkable antioxidant power.”

“Blueberry anthocyanins may protect humans and animals from the effects of a condition known as oxidative stress, which underlies the common disorders associated with aging,” Galland wrote.

He also wrote that blueberries are a good source of vitamin C, vitamin K and fiber.

With all these health benefits, it is no surprise that blueberries rank second in U.S. fruit consumption popularity, beaten only by strawberries, according to The World’s Healthiest Foods.

They are popular but they are not as simple as they seem.

There are only a few fruits native to North America, and blueberries are one of them. According to Galland, blueberries are divided into two major species: low bush and high bush. Low bush are the wild berries and high bush are the farmed berries.

Growers plant different varieties in their farms. A small part of Warner’s 22.7 acres of land is home to 25 to 30 different varieties of Northern Highbush, the most widely planted blueberries in the world. The Northern Highbush has 45 different commercial varieties, Warner said.

The most popular of the varieties is the Bluecrop. Warner said they are popular because of their high quality and good taste. In addition to keeping well, the Bluecrop is also one of the most productive blueberry bushes. Warner said a mature bush can produce 15 to 20 pounds of blueberries.

Each variety produces blueberries of different sizes. The Chandler, for example, can produce blueberries the size of a quarter but Warner said he had some fruits the size of a nickel at one time.

So blueberries are not always the small, round fruits most people see.

Neither are they always blue. Warner said that a blueberry selection called Pink Champagne, is, well, pink, when it is ripe. It is a product of a cross between different varieties and is still being evaluated for commercialization.

As a grower, Warner spoke enthusiastically about how he takes care of his blueberry plants, some of which he has had for 16 years.

“You just have to baby them,” Warner said, referring to the bushes beside him that bore the blueberries he had in his hand, as he stood under the rain on Saturday.

Some blueberry plants respond better to the rain the Wabash Valley has been getting this summer, Warner said. However, some plants don’t, and their fruits may be less sweet because of low sunlight.

The plants require a temperate climate, he said, but they are low-maintenance crops.

As a child, his family’s travels gave him some opportunities to pick blueberries. Eventually, he got into growing them.

“It’s in my blood. … I grow things,” he said.

And with the Centers for Disease Control recommending between 1.5 to 2.5 cups of fruit in Americans’ daily diet, many more blueberries might help.

Tribune-Star reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or

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