Summer is here, and many of us love nothing more than a big carton of deep blue-ish purple blueberries! Wherever we can get them from the grocery store, farmers markets, or local community agriculture programs is so exciting, but did you know that blueberries are native to the eastern United States? We can go out and forage for these sweet snacks starting in July through the early fall! BUT, blueberries are more than a tasty snack for us. They are important food and shelter for many wildlife species and play an important role in our ecosystem.
Highbush Blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) definitely provides excellent food sources for wildlife, just as it does for humans. While we may often think of an herbivore enjoying the ripened berries, many omnivores and opportunistic eaters love the fruits! Black bears, raccoons, red fox, coyotes, opossums, and porcupines love this snack, as do many birds.
Bluebirds, robins, Baltimore Orioles, Grey Catbirds, Eastern Towhees, and several other fruit eaters can be found flying from blueberry bush to bush in search of the fruits. Not only do blueberry shrubs provide valuable food resources, but they also will provide shelter for many of these birds as well. The blueberry’s shrubby, thicket-like growth allow small birds and mammals to take shelter from the elements (heat, wind, rain, etc…) and hide away from predators.
In the spring, when the bell-shaped flowers are drooping, they provide valuable nectar and pollen resources for numerous native bee species.
If you’re looking to incorporate native plants into your garden, blueberries may be a great addition both for you AND for wildlife!
On top of the ecosystem benefits, blueberries are wonderful to forage for & harvest because they are rich in nutrients. These dark blue-ish purple berries are high in antioxidants, Vitamin B2 and C, help boost circulation, and can improve digestion due to their sugar and tannin content. The leaves, when dried and made into tea, have an antiseptic effect and can help rid the body of infection, especially in the kidneys and bladder.
Harvest the berries in July – early September (provided the wildlife hasn’t beaten you to them!) and the leaves in the fall once they have changed color to a vibrant red.
In your clean glass jar, fill it 1/2 way with blueberries and muddle. Fill the rest of the jar with lemon peel. Top off with gin. Seal and set aside for 3-5 days, until the gin is fully flavored. In a glass, make DIY Lemonade using water, honey, and lemon juice (all ingredients to taste). When ready, strain the muddled blueberries and lemon peel out of the gin and compost the marc (debris). Add your blueberry gin to the lemonade for a delicious summer cocktail!
Fill a tea steeper with the crushed, dried plant matter. Do not put the steeper in your mug yet. Boil water for the tea and fill your mug with the hot water. Wait 1-2 minutes, then add your tea steeper. Boiling water & high heat can degrade the nutritional and medicinal benefits of the plants. Steep for 5-7 minutes and enjoy! Use 8 tbsp. of dried plant matter for a pitcher of iced tea.
Wash all berries and mush them up in a saucepan with water. Inside the pectin box, you will be able to find a table of ratios that will instruct you how much water to add to the saucepan based on the type and amount of berries that you foraged. Follow those ratios for both the water AND the sugar. Boil the berries and water quickly for 1 minute, then strain the fruit bits out if desired. Add sugar, and boil again while stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Quickly pour jam mixture into your clean ball jars and fully seal. Jam will be ready to store in the refrigerator or pantry once you hear the pressurized lid “pop”. (For reference, I had 2 and 1/2 c. berries which made 6 full pint jars of blueberry jam.)
Marissa Jacobs (The Art of Ecology) does not diagnose, treat, or prescribe, and nothing said or done should be misconstrued as such. These tips are designed to educate and support general well-being.
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