12 Nov 2022

BILBERRY: CHARACTERISTICS AND CURIOSITIES OF THE KING OF THE...

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Summary

ORIGIN

Vaccinium Mirtyllus, known in Italy as mirtillo nero, in English as bilberry or European blueberry, is a plant in the Ericaceae family.

The etymology of the name seems to be multiple: according to some, the name would derive from the Latin Vaccinus, meaning 'of the cows,' as a favorite plant of cattle pastures. According to others, however, the term would be associated with the Greek Ὑάκινθος, or hyacinth, so associated because of its tendentially purplish color. Finally, another theory would link the term to baccinium, short for berry. The name bilberry, on the other hand, has origins from the Scandinavian word bollebar, which translates to 'dark berry/dark-colored berry.'

Plant of blueberry European.
Plant of blueberry European.

DISSEMINATION

Black blueberry is predominantly widespread in Eurasia, particularly in the Scandinavian part. In Sweden, for example, between 17-21% of the land-covered by forests-you can find bilberry plants. Still, according to Arctic Bilberry's estimates, an average of 184,000 tons of production, albeit not fully harvested, is reported in Finland each year. Iceland and Norway are additional countries with the highest extent of wild blueberries plants. This is because of the expanses of forests in the territory, which together with the native climate favor natural growth and extension of blueberry plants. In Italy it is possible to find wild blueberry in the most mountainous areas, thus in the areas of the Alps and the Apennines.

Generally this berry is found in places with a temperate or subarctic climate, within forests, coniferous forests, meadows and pastures characterized by acidic pH soil. Normally you can find blueberry plants in areas that are not directly exposed to sunlight and are fairly humid.

FEATURES

The wild blueberry plant occurs as a deciduous, broadleaf shrub, ranging from 10 to 60 cm in height. In contrast to the American giant blueberry this plant tends to have a horizontal rather than vertical spread, and forms a carpet of shrubs in the growing area.

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Photo: Corinna Lanthaler.

The leaves are green, toothed and tapered elliptical in shape. These tend to take on a brown/reddish color during the autumn period and then fall off in winter. The plant flowers at the end of the spring period, in May, and is ready for harvest throughout the summer, particularly from July until the first weeks of September. The fruits result at their peak in the weeks following full berry coloration.

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Photos of Arktiset Aromit
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By Bruno Romiti - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5053149
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Photos of Arktiset Aromit


Unlike the American blueberry , the wild blueberry has some differences even at the level of the fruit itself. In fact, the berry is smaller in size, between 6-8 mm, with a maximum weight of 0.55 grams (compared to 10-25 mm and 1.5 -2.5 grams in weight of the American one). The outer skin has a darker color, almost tending to black, and the flesh takes on a reddish/purple hue due to the large amount of anthocyanins present in the fruit.

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COLLECTION

Because it is difficult to grow, wild blueberry is only harvested in the wild. This makes harvesting laborious, partly because of the height of the plants, which often verges on ground level. However, although harvesting is always done by hand, this is done through the use of rake-like tools, called combs, whose function is to pull the berries directly off the plants. This turns out to be important because due to their structure, wild blueberries are very fragile, and the different parts of the comb make it possible to pick them without damaging them.

Comb to collect blueberries.
Comb to collect blueberries.
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The blueberries are then collected inside sacks, baskets or containers and taken to the various processing sites. In almost all cases these berries are not sold at retail, but are used and processed for products such as juices, jams or sold locally to individuals. On the other hand, in the case of companies such as Majra Bothnia Berries, these are further processed and stored inside cold storage and then sold and shipped to customers. This is because of the short shelf life. In fact, once harvested, these berries lose their freshness within a few days.


Black blueberry is not only and exclusively harvested by companies in the industry, but rather enjoys considerable freedom of enjoyment by private individuals as well. In Finland, for example, thanks to a long-standing tradition of citizen's rights, it is possible for anyone to go to the harvesting sites and take advantage of the abundance of these berries without necessarily asking permission from the eventual owner of the land on which they are found, while complying with a certain number of laws and expedients.

Also very interesting is the participation of people from foreign countries who head to the Scandinavian region to help harvest blueberries. Especially from Asian countries, many travel to these regions during the harvesting period-June to August-to serve as pickers while receiving financial compensation.

In Italy, too, it is possible to participate in events, initiatives, or simply carry out autonomously the collection of blueberry. In contrast to the Nordic countries, however, the rules are stricter. For example, in Emilia Romagna, in Frignano Park it is possible to collect from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. only up to 1kg daily, 5kg if residents of the park's municipalities. In case you want to make a more substantial supply, you can pay a fee to obtain a collection permit for up to 100kg. Again, only ripe fruit can be harvested.

HEALTH

According to several studies(Flavonoids: An overview. Journal of Nutritional Science), blueberry black has high amounts of flavonoids, natural components found within plants, fruits and vegetables. They are known to have high beneficial properties, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimutagenic properties. Specifically, blueberry possesses high levels of anthocyanins. In addition to possessing beneficial properties, anthocyanins are also responsible for the dark coloring of blueberry. In fact, comparing blueberry black and giant American black, anthocyanin levels are far higher in the wild blueberry .

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In addition, blueberry black contains a low number of calories, but at the same time has high levels of vitamin C, along with fiber and vitamin E, and is ideal for low-fat diets.

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According to studies then(Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects), consuming even a few grams of blueberries, in addition to being a great snack for any time of the day, provides several benefits:

  • Antioxidants
  • Anti-inflammatories
  • Antibacterial
  • Improved vision
  • Improvement of the cardiovascular system
  • Stomach and digestive tract improvements.

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