Where does blueberry come from

Blueberries from Germany

They are also known regionally as blueberries, bickberries, blackberries or hayberries: we're talking about blueberries. A good 550,000 tons (as of 2016) are harvested and processed worldwide. The USA occupies first position by far, followed by Canada, Mexico, Poland, Germany and France. The consumption of cultivated blueberries has been rising steadily for years, but German blueberry growers are unable to meet the demand for blue berries.

The wild blueberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) is a species from the genus of blueberries (Vaccinium), which also includes cranberries or lingonberries. Blueberries, in turn, belong to the heather family (Ericaceae), to which, for example, the common heather and the rhododendron belong. A total of over 400 types of blueberries are known.

Season from June to September

Blueberries are ripe in Germany from the end of June and are then in season until September. They grow as herbaceous ground cover in moist bog meadows and light bog forests and like the penumbra in the pine forests of northern Germany or in the mountain spruce forests of southern Germany. Forest blueberries are much more aromatic than the cultivated blueberries, which are available directly from the grower, at weekly markets and berry stands as well as in the supermarket. The cultivated blueberries do not come from our native forest blueberries, but from a subgenus of the American blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum). In contrast to their “wild relatives”, they have fewer red-coloring anthocyanins that turn fingers, lips and tongue blue-red, so the enjoyment remains invisible when consumed directly. The proportion of tannins that are important for intestinal health is also significantly higher in wild blueberries, but cultivated blueberries are sweeter than wild blueberries.

More than 100 varieties of cultivated blueberries

Today there are more than 100 varieties and hybrids of cultivated blueberries. Very early varieties are occasionally available from the end of May, while late varieties continue into October. They were brought to Germany 100 years ago by the German botanist Dr. Wilhelm Heermann from Rinteln / Weser. In the 1920s he tested which of the American blueberry varieties are suitable for cultivation in Germany. The cultivation of the blueberry bushes in the plantations takes time. It takes a good ten years for a shrub to reach its final size of up to 2 meters and yield between 5 and 10 kilograms of berries in its full yield. Around 8 to 10 tons are then harvested per hectare. Blueberries are relatively less susceptible to diseases and pests. Occasionally, however, the botrytis fungus can cause them problems, which leads to branch dying, or the monilia fungi, which cause fruit rot and tip drought, or the colletotrichum fungus, which leads to anthracnose, which makes the berries unsaleable. Aphids, frost worms and weevils can cause damage.

Cultivated blueberries make up a third of berry consumption

Well-known blueberry growing areas in Germany are the Lüneburg Heath and the area around Oldenburg in Lower Saxony, the sandy regions in Brandenburg and Central Baden. Berries are trendy, the consumption of blueberries and other berries is increasing. The cultivated blueberry takes up a large part with a share of 34 percent (as of 2017). It is by far the most important bush berry in Germany. The blueberry acreage was just under 2,850 hectares in 2017; in 2008 it was still 1,400 hectares. According to the Agrarmarkt-Informations-Gesellschaft (AMI), German consumers bought 43 percent more blueberries in 2017 than in 2016. In an evaluation of advertising material from supermarkets, the AMI found that blueberries had tripled between 2010 and 2017.

Picking by hand

In regions where the wild blueberry is traditionally found, it is often harvested with a berry comb with a box, the raffle or riffle, because wild blueberries are so small that it takes a lot of patience to pick significant quantities. This method has the disadvantage that leaves and unripe berries are also harvested. Cultivated blueberries, on the other hand, are still picked by hand. The blueberry growers are supported by seasonal workers from Germany and other European countries, mostly Poland, Bulgaria or Romania, but you can also pick them yourself for your own needs. A big advantage of cultivated blueberries when you pick them yourself is their size; collecting is much faster than with wild blueberries. It is important to harvest the fruits at the right time, as they cannot be stored for long after harvesting in the household. Under CA (Controlled Atmosphere) conditions, they can be stored at the producers or dealers for up to six weeks before they are further processed. German blueberries are available to consumers in the summer from the end of June to September; in the winter months such as February, the blueberries in the supermarket mostly come from South American countries such as Peru, Chile or Argentina.

Healthy vitamin donors

You can eat blueberries straight, sweetened with cream, as a compote in desserts, as jam, (pan) cake, ice cream or as a preserve in a glass or frozen. Blueberries are real vitamin and mineral bombs: They contain high levels of calcium, magnesium and iron as well as vitamins A, B1, B2 and niacin. Due to their high antioxidant content, they are said to have an effect on reducing the risk of cancer.