The Wondrous Blueberry

Blueberries have a deep blue skin covered in a waxy white coating, called the 'bloom'. The bloom keeps the berry fresh, so make sure you check for this when purchasing blueberries. Inside, the flesh is a light green colour and the seeds may be big or small depending on the variety. Variety can also affect the taste, varying in the balance between sweet and tart. Besides the great taste, blueberries also offer a wide range of health benefits, due to their high antioxidant content. The health benefits of blueberries continue to cause a high demand among consumers today.

The blueberry plant is a type of shrub belonging to the plant family 'Ericaceae' and is native to North America. Native Americans gathered the berries that grew wild in North America for consumption and medicinal use. Blueberries were nicknamed 'star berries' by the Native Americans due to the calyxes' similar shape and were used to treat blood wounds and coughs. The dark blue fruit's juices were used to dye baskets and cloth while dried berries were crushed into a powder and used to flavour meat.wondrousblueberry

During the 17th Century, colonists from England learned from Native Americans how to gather blueberries, dry them under the summer's sun and store them for the winter. In time, blueberries became an important food source and were preserved, and later canned. In the early 1900's, cultivation of blueberries was spearheaded by Dr. Frederick Coville, a botanist at the United States Department of Agriculture who pioneered research into blueberry production. His work was forwarded by Elizabeth White, whose family established the first commercial blueberry fields. By 1916, Dr. Coville & Elizabeth White had succeeded in cultivating blueberries.

Blueberries were successfully introduced into Australia in the 1970's by David Jones of the Victorian Department of Agriculture. His work was continued by blueberry enthusiasts Margaret Tucker and Ridley Bell. Ridley continued the selection trials and the importation of American varieties. The dedication of David, Ridley and Margaret led to the formation of the Australian Blueberry Growers Association in the mid 1970's. This led to the commercial production of blueberries in the mid 1980's which was concentrated in the Far North Coast region.

Northern Highbush varieties were the first to be grown in Australia, showing suitability to areas in Victoria, Southern NSW and Tasmania. By the end of the 1970's it was found that Southern Highbush and Rabbiteye varieties suited Northern NSW where they could produce an earlier season to the Northern Highbush varieties being grown. A good season would begin around June with a small amount of fruit, to peak in October for Southern Highbush and December for Rabbiteye, and run through until January. As new varieties are released, the seasons have extended and will continue to extend so that fresh blueberries are available all year round. By 2008, 80% of Australian blueberries were being grown on the north coast of New South Wales.