When I think June, I think Blueberries! Here in Myrtle Beach we’re fortunate to have access to local blueberries from June to August. In fact, around here you can pick your own at places like Indigo Farms in Calabash and Bruce’s Blueberries in Conway.
Blueberries are grown all over the world and are generally divided into 3 classifications: highbush, lowbush, and rabbiteye. Lowbush blueberry bushes grow to about a maximum height of 2 feet and are generally found in the wild. The blueberries we find in the grocery store and on local farms are highbush and rabbiteye (native to the southeastern USA) varieties.
Blueberries have about 84 calories per cup and are packed with nutrients like vitamins C and K. They get their deep blue color from the antioxidant flavonoids called anthocyanins. Read on for a few more reasons to bring the brilliant blueberry into your life:
Blueberries fight disease. They are one of the best sources of antioxidants out there. Antioxidants are important because they fight against chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Several studies have been done showing that blueberry extracts can inhibit the growth of cancer cells and blueberries can also help reduce LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure – all risk factors for heart disease.
Blueberries reduce inflammation. Over 200 people with rheumatoid arthritis responded to a survey about which foods alleviate their symptoms the most and blueberries (and spinach) were at the top of the list.
Blueberries are a great source of fiber (refer to the April issue of Plantation Living for a refresher on fiber!). Fiber is helpful for lowering blood sugar, weight loss, and keeping your digestive tract healthy.
Blueberries might make you smarter. Studies have shown that blueberries can enhance memory and cognitive performance.
Blueberries may help strengthen your bones. In animal studies, blueberries appeared to reduce bone loss, which can lead to osteoporosis. Purdue University is about 4 years into a 5-year study into whether this holds true for humans as well. Stay tuned for more great news about the brilliant blueberry!
But you don’t need to wait for study results to enjoy the benefits of blueberries! Fresh berries are the most nutritious and are generally available year-round, thanks to imports from South America. However, frozen berries retain most of their antioxidant capacity, so are a great back-up plan. To keep berries fresh longer, I swish them in a 3:1 water-vinegar solution, rinse, and spread them out on a sheet plan lined with paper towels to dry. Once they’re dry, store them in the refrigerator.
Blueberries are delicious in both sweet and savory dishes and a quick Google or Pinterest search will yield hundreds of recipe options. This month’s recipe includes an easy blueberry jam made with maple syrup and chia seeds as a healthy alternative to store-bought jams and fruit-on-the bottom yogurts that tend to be loaded with added sugar. So get out your hats and buckets and head to Conway or Calabash for some local blueberry picking!
Fruit-on-the bottom Yogurt with Blueberry Chia Seed Jam
Store-bought jellies, jams, and fruit-on-the-bottom or flavored yogurts are loaded with added sugar. You can make your own blueberry jam with fresh or frozen blueberries, maple syrup (be sure to use pure maple syrup) for a healthier alternative to white sugar, and chia seeds instead of pectin for some added omega-3 fatty acids. Layer the jam with whole-milk plain yogurt and chopped nuts for a healthy treat!
3 cups fresh (or frozen, thawed) blueberries
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons (or more) pure maple syrup
¼ cup chia seeds
Bring blueberries, lemon zest, lemon juice, and maple syrup to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, just until blueberries begin to burst, about 5 minutes. Use a spoon or potato masher to lightly mash about half of the berries to release their juices. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until juices are reduced by half, 5–10 minutes.
Remove jam from heat; taste and add a bit more maple syrup if you prefer it to be sweeter. Return to a boil, then stir in chia seeds; cook 1 minute to soften seeds. Let jam cool slightly, then transfer to heatproof jars or containers. Cover and let cool completely. Chill until ready to use.
Top with regular or Greek plain yogurt and slivered almonds or chopped walnuts for fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt.
Do Ahead: Jam can be made 2 weeks ahead. Cover and chill or freeze up to 2 months.