The health benefits of Blueberries are abundant, but before we get into them, let’s learn a little more about this highly nutritious fruit. Blueberries are small fruits seldom reaching more than a centimeter in diameter and growing on a small, hidden bush. Some may think they are insignificant. There are different blueberry species, all of which belong to the genus Vaccinium and share common medicinal properties.
When we speak of blueberries, by extension, we also refer to the cranberries, which are not blue but red colored. Cranberries also belong to the same genus Vaccinium and are especially useful as a urinary antiseptic. However, this tiny fruit of the woods contains excellent possibilities. Recent years have produced a proliferation of investigative works highlighting the blueberries’ remarkable dietary and therapeutic virtues.
Health Benefits of Blueberries
Blueberries contain an average of 11.4 percent carbohydrates, most of which are fructose and various sugars. They do not have many fats and proteins. Among its minerals, the most important is potassium, and amongst its vitamins is vitamin A. However, the health benefits of blueberries are due to other non-nutritive components, for instance, organic acids, anthocyanins, myrtilin (glucoside pigment), and tannin, which give them antiseptic, vascular-protective, and astringent properties. Blueberries are helpful for the following conditions:
URINARY INFECTIONS: blueberry and cranberry juices have remarkable antiseptic and antibiotic effects on the germs that cause urinary infections, particularly Escherichia coli. This has been proven in recent years and is the most critical application of this fruit. The most studied species regarding this antiseptic effect within the urinary system are two that are grown in North America:
- Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccus),
- American cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon).
All of these species are similar in composition and effects. Therefore, blueberries have similar antiseptic properties as the more studied cranberries. Cranberries and blueberries have two significant advantages over most antibiotics used to treat repeated infections of the lower urinary tract (cystitis):
- They impede the adherence of bacteria to the cells that line the interior of the urinary bladder. This adherence is a persistent phenomenon in lower urinary tract infections such as cystitis and partially explains the frequent reinfections that are common when treatment is based on regular antibiotics.
- They do not provoke bacterial resistance to this antibiotic effect, a phenomenon that is common with antibiotics.
Cranberry juice, in particular, is a medicinal food recommended in cases of chronic or relapsing cystitis. Drinking 300 ml (a large glass) of cranberry juice daily was sufficient to halve the incidence of bacteriuria and pyuria (presence of bacteria and pus in the urine, respectively) in a group of women with a propensity toward repeated cystitis. Naturally, it may be assumed that freshly collected juice will be even more effective
To be effective in cases of repeated cystitis, one must drink cranberry juice daily for one to three months. In persistent cases, there is no adverse risk in continuing up to six months.
KIDNEY STONES: Cranberries and blueberries contain quinic acid, a substance eliminated through the urine. This material acidifies the urine and helps thwart phosphate calculi development (it does not affect other types of calculi). Cranberrie juice can even help dissolve calcium phosphate calculi that are already present.
INFECTIOUS DIARRHEA: The antimicrobial action of cranberries and blueberries is effective within the astringent effect of tannins. These normalize and rebalance the intestinal flora, preventing the excessive proliferation of Escherichia coli, the most common germ within the intestine.
Blueberries and cranberries are particularly indicated in cases of disbacteriosis (disturbance of the intestinal bacterial flora), generally due to antibiotics. Also, they are very effective against flatulence (excess intestinal gas).
CIRCULATORY DISORDERS: Blueberries act to protect the walls of the capillaries and veins because of their anthocyanin content. They lessen inflammation and swelling in the tissues. Their regular consumption is recommended in cases of swollen lower extremities, varicose veins, phlebitis, varicose ulcers, and hemorrhoids.
VISION LOSS DUE TO RETINAL DETERIORATION: The anthocyanins (substances responsible for the color in this group of fruits, more abundant in blue species) in blueberries improve retinal function and visual acuity.
Blueberry Scientific Facts
- Scientific name: Vaccinium myrtillus L.
- Other names: Highbush blueberry, late sweet blueberry.
- French: Airelle.
- Spanish: Arándano.
- German: Heidelbeere.
- Description: The fruit of any of several plants. They are small berries of dark color. The plants are small deciduous bushes of the Ericaceae, reaching from 25 to 50 cm in height.
- Description: Blueberries grow wild in mountainous and siliceous terrains of central and northern Europe, Asia, and North America. Some species are farmed despite the difficulty in collecting the small berries.
This treatment is based on fresh fruit that has either been pureed or cooked. For three to five consecutive days, one eats from half a kilo to one kilo a day and is distributed into four settings as the only food. Children or frail individuals may also have milk. This treatment eliminates oxyurids, tiny intestinal parasites that are relatively common in children.
Blueberries vs. Cranberries
All blueberries and cranberries belong to the genus Vaccinium and are similar in composition and properties, with some differences. The primary difference in classification is by color:
BLUEBERRIES: These are dark blue or purple and have the following characteristics:
- They are sweeter than cranberries.
- They are richer in anthocyanins.
- They are recommended for circulatory disorders (varicose veins, hemorrhoids) and those of the retina, although they are also effective against cystitis and diarrhea.
Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus L.), also known as huckleberry and whortleberry: is a wild European relative of the blueberry. It also grows in California and the American southwest. Wild bilberries are typically in diameter and very rich in medicinal ingredients.
Highbush blueberry: (Vaccinium corymbosum L.) Similar to the bilberry, but larger. Its juicy berries measure up to 2.5 cm in diameter. They are widely cultivated in North America.
Lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium): These are raised in the northeastern United States (the state of Maine) and Canada (the province of Quebec). The fruit measures from 1 to 1.5 cm.
- These are bitterer than blueberries.
- They contain more acidifying substances that affect the urine.
- They are more effective for infections of the urinary and digestive tracts.
Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccus L.): Found in northern Europe and North America. Their bright red fruit measures from 0.5 to 1.0 cm in diameter. These are the bitterest of the Vaccinium.
American cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon): It is similar to cranberry but somewhat more significant and slightly oval.
Cowberry or foxberry (Vaccinium vitisidaea): These grow in temperate and cold regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Their red aggregate fruits are somewhat acid.
How to use and Prepare Blueberry
- FRESH: Blueberries and cranberries can be stored fresh for only a brief period. They are best when eaten at harvest and combined very well with milk or yogurt.
- JUICE: This is obtained by squeezing the fresh, ripe fruit. A simple way to do this is to strain the fruit and filter the resulting liquid.
- PRESERVES: Blueberries and cranberries are used to prepare compotes, juices, jams, and jellies.
George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. “Encyclopedia of Foods and Their Healing Power.” George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. Encyclopedia of Foods and Their Healing Power. Trans. Annette Melgosa. Vol. 2. Chai Wan: Editorial Safeliz, 2005. 257, 258, 259. Print.