In northernmost Minnesota, wild blueberry season is just getting started. Soon there will be cars along the country roadsides, with hopeful souls scouring the hillsides. They may very well be fortunate, as our unusually rainy summer seems to be making for a bumper crop. Hunting for wild blueberries is so popular that it hardly seems like foraging. Still, they’re well worth the wait, and the effort Besides being amazingly tasty, these prized little gems are nutritional powerhouses.
Tips for finding blueberries:
Blueberries love acidic soil and sunshine. You often will find them on the edge of a forest clearing, on rocky hillsides, or in areas that have been exposed to forest fire.
Note: Lowbush Wild Blueberries grow pretty low to the ground, so be prepared to do a lot of bending over. You’ll definitely be aware of your back muscles by the end of a day of picking. Also, you can pick berries that are just nearly ripe. They will ripen anyway.
Wild blueberries grow best in the northern states and Canada, but can be found elsewhere as well. See: US distribution map for (lowbush) wild blueberries.
A word of caution: Be aware of your surroundings when foraging. Avoid areas that are “unclean” (such as dumps, roadsides, etc.). Also, be warned that we’re not the only species that enjoys berries. In particular, bears do love their wild berries too and can be protective of their food sources. Just be alert and make some noise while berry picking (hum, talk out loud, cough, etc.) to alert any bears in the area of your presence. (Surprising a bear’s never a good idea.) If there is a bear there, it will likely leave the spot before you get there. If it doesn’t, don’t challenge the bear – go find another berry cache!
Update: Today I discovered yet another bunch of critters that are protective of their wild blueberry patch: Ants! My secret berry patch is covered with downed timber that’s in various states of degradation. I was surprised to find biting ants that relentlessly challenged me to the patches. Being chased off by ants from a berry patch was a first. But, I don’t feel too badly about it. After studying one spot in particular, I could tell that a bear had recently tried foraging the same patch and was also run off in haste by the little mighty fighters. Definitely something to be mindful of.
Lastly, when foraging (whether for wild blueberries or anything else), be respectful. What does that mean? Basically, don’t ruin the area for others.
- Always leave a significant number of berries for nature to replenish itself.
- Try not to trample the plants.
- Leave no trace… don’t leave trash, cigarette butts, etc. behind. It should look as pristine as you found it, minus some berries.
- And of course, use your plant identification books to make sure you’re picking the right plant and not a poisonous look alike.
Nutritional Information About Blueberries:
Besides being a “superfood” that’s filled with a ridiculous number of antioxidants, studies are showing that blueberries:
- contain multiple compounds that are strong anti-cancer agents, with the potential of preventing the spread of several kinds of cancer (including liver cancer).
- supply nutrients to help strengthen your vision.
- contain a compound that not only helps your skin defend itself from overexposure to the sun, but battles skin cancer.
- help prevent your muscles from atrophying as you age.
Note: If you’re foraging your wild blueberries, you’re getting the most organic version that you possibly can! Why is this important? Commercially grown blueberries are one of the worst offenders for retaining pesticides from their environment. This puts store-bought non-organic blueberries consistently on the “dirty” list of harmful foods to avoid. Organic and wild blueberries are healthful, however. You just don’t get more natural than what God and nature provide.
Note: While you’re at it, consider picking some of the blueberry plant’s leaves! Air dry them, and store them in a dark, dry container for making homemade winter teas. They contain a compound that helps reduce blood-sugar levels, as well as helps battle urinary tract inflammation.
Just for fun… Some out of the ordinary blueberry recipes:
- Whipped Blueberry Butter
- Blueberry Vinaigrette Salad Dressing
- Blueberry Jam
- Blueberry Salsa
- Blueberry Wine
- Blueberry Vodka
(Feel free to share your favorite wild blueberry foraging stories or recipes in the comments!)