When it comes to health, make
blueberries your first pick

Photographs: Carole Topalian

Nothing says summertime quite like freshly picked Jersey blueberries. They are sweet, juicy and brimming with nutrition.

In fact, the blueberry is the state fruit of New Jersey. “Jersey has an extensive coastal plain, and blueberries thrive in acidic sandy soil,” says Jared Rosenbaum of Wild Ridge Plants in Warren County. “Sandy soil leaches minerals and nutrients that the plant absorbs and thrives on.” While lowbush varieties do relatively well in the state’s dry woods and barrens, it is the highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) that grows best in New Jersey. First domesticated in the Pine Barrens, the highbush produces most of the locally grown blueberries sold at retail and is the variety favored by home gardeners.

Blueberries contain a variety of valuable minerals, including manganese, iron, potassium and copper. But what really makes them stand out is their concentrated levels of antioxidants. Colorful fruits and berries have long been known to have high antioxidant content, and blueberries are no exception. The deep pigment in the skin of a ripe berry is where the highest density of antioxidants can be found, explains Anthony Dissen, a registered dietitian at CentraState Medical Center in Freehold. One 100-gram serving of blueberries contains a full day’s recommended intake of antioxidant units, called ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) units. Dissen adds that not only are blueberries easy to find, they are also not as costly as many other “superfoods” on the market.

Blueberries are also high in soluble fiber, which help in digestion, balance cholesterol levels, and even help regulate hormone levels. “Many diseases, including certain types of cancers, are influenced by the level of estrogen and testosterone in our body—soluble fiber helps keep those levels in check,” Dissen says. He notes that soluble fiber is excellent for holding moisture, making blueberries very hydrating to the body, both inside and out. “You can mash them up and apply them to your skin to soothe sunburn in place of aloe,” he says.

Though the berry tends to get most of the attention, it’s worth mentioning that blueberry leaves are healthy as well. “Blueberry leaves not only contain high levels of antioxidants like the fruit, they also have antiviral and antibiotic effects,” says Jason Frigerio, a naturopathic doctor at NJ Natural Medicine in New Vernon. “The leaves also contain powerful flavonoids called anthocyanins, which have been found to have neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties.

Combined with their high concentration of antioxidants that prevent oxidative damage to tissue, we are finding that regular consumption of the tea [may] be protective against neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.” To take advantage of the benefits of blueberry leaves, drink blueberry tea, which can be found in many health food stores.

So whether at a backyard barbecue or a picnic down the Shore, keep cool this summer with fresh Jersey blueberries—a nourishing fruit you can feel proud to enjoy.


Savory Blueberry Compote

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