One of my favourite times of the year is summer, because I get to pick wild blueberries where I grew up in Northern Ontario. Picking blueberries is an incredibly meditative process, and exciting, too.
Fortunately, the health benefits of blueberries are endless. Their high antioxidant value makes them incredibly beneficial to the human body, helping to improve memory, reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia, improve digestion and prevent cancer.
Blueberries are particularly high in manganese, which is important for bone formation, connective tissue repair, blood clotting, and the production of sex hormones. It also plays a role in fat and carbohydrate metabolism, calcium absorption, and blood sugar regulation.
The Top Health Benefits of Blueberries
Blueberries are incredibly healing to the body. Make sure you consume organic blueberries, as conventional berries are often loaded with pesticides.
Blueberry antioxidants have the ability to reduce the chance of developing cancers like breast, colon, esophageal, and intestinal cancer. Flavonoids like anthocyanins, flavonols, and proanthocyanidins decrease inflammation, counteract oxidative stress, and modulate interactions and expression of genes in the body associated with the disease process (1).
In one study, blueberry extract (among other berry extracts) was found to increase the inhibition of cell proliferation of all cancer cell lines tested (breast, oral, colon and prostate tumour cell lines). It also stimulated apoptosis (programmed cell death) of the cancer cell lines, meaning that blueberries are helpful in combatting cancer (2).
Cognitive function is improved upon consumption of blueberries. They help protect the nerve cells in your brain from oxygen damage, and studies have shown that blueberry extracts are particularly effective in reversing age-related deficits in neuronal signalling (3). Rats that were fed a blueberry-rich diet (not the controls) had several anthocyanin concentrations located in the cerebellum, cortex, hippocampus and striatum (all regions of the brain important for learning and memory).
Blueberries are great for the eyes, too! The anthocyanins found in blueberries ensure that our retinas are protected from unwanted oxygen damage and UV rays from the sun. Studies have found that blueberry extracts help increase cell viability, and decrease oxidative stress to human retinal cells (4). Preventing retinal damage the natural way can easily be achieved by consuming at least 1-2 cups of organic blueberries per day.
MUSCLE & INJURY REPAIR
If you’re one to undergo lots of strenuous exercise, blueberries can help! Intense, or long duration aerobic exercise can greatly increase oxidative stress. Blueberries help to reduce the amount of reactive oxygen species in the blood stream (5), thereby reducing post-exercise injuries. Natural killer cells (critical to an innate immune system) and anti-inflammatory cytokines are also increased when 250 grams of blueberries are consumed every day for six weeks (6).
How To Grow Blueberries Indoors
Growing blueberries indoors can be quite labour intensive, however it is possible.
Blueberries love the sun, so if you want to grow them indoors, they need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day. They need regular watering without the soil getting too dry, and the soil needs to be more acidic than normal. Peat moss or sulphur added to the container soil will help make it more acidic. A 50-50 mix of peat moss and soil is best.
Blueberries also need cooler temperatures for a few months each year to go dormant, so that they can produce flowers and berries the next season. Move the plant to a cold area, like an unheated garage or basement, during the winter.
The best variety to grow indoors is called the “Top Hat” variety, which grows to about 24 inches tall, and is designed to thrive in warmer climates. Blueberry root are also shallow, and they prefer short, large containers, over tall and narrow ones. Planting in a pot with drainage is also required.
1. Fill a container with 50% peat moss and 50% soil until two-thirds full.
2. Wiggle the plastic grower’s pot your blueberry plant came in to release the plant from its pot.
3. Centre the blueberry bush in the container, filling in the edges between the plant and the pot with more soil.
4. Apply firm pressure on the soil with your hands to prevent it from loosening up when you water your plant.
5. Water well, and add more soil if necessary, however, do not “choke” the base of the blueberry bush with dirt.
6. Spread 1-2 inches of acidic mulch like pine needles on top of the soil.
7. Place in a sunny location with at least 6 hours of sun each day.
8. Harvest your berries and enjoy!