Once a year, my mother and I would set our alarms for 4 AM and trudge out to the woods in the early dawn.
Drenched in bug spray and covered in dirt, we’d hike until we came across the revered and oft-hunted blueberry bushes.
We’d pick as many as we could, dumping them in shopping bags, buckets, and empty jars. The next few days were filled with blueberry cobblers and pies, plus fistfuls of berries every few minutes.
Clearly, there’s nothing better than a fresh, wild blueberry.
Whether baked alongside a crumble or in a plain muffin, blueberries are a staple in my kitchen and thousands of others around the world.
So, let’s learn a little more about one of the most popular berries and what we can, and cannot do, with those darned seeds.
What is a Blueberry?
Blueberries are an aggregate fruit belonging to the heath family, genus Vaccinium. They are in the same family as cranberries and rhododendron, so you know their family reunion would be tons of fun!
They’re native to North America, usually eastern, but can now be grown in Australia and New Zealand, plus several South American countries.
However, you can only find true wild blueberries in eastern North America, like those tiny berries I sacrificed my sleep for all those years ago.
Blueberries grow on bushes that can reach up to 12 feet, though certain varieties only reach 2-4 feet.
The berries change color as they mature from green to blue, purple, and black. Alongside the berries, these bushes feature long, thin leaves and flowers that range in shade from white to red.
There are five main bushes:
- Northern highbush
- Southern highbush
The highbush varieties, specifically the northern highbush, are the most common. Disease-resistant strains usually are. Of course, there are many other hybrids and varieties apart from these main five, but you get the picture.
Blueberries require a chilling period in order to produce fruit. They have to be exposed to temperatures below 45°F, so they can mature and fruit come May. Hot girl summer, no thank you!
Another fun blueberry fact: they can’t self-pollinate! So, they have a symbiotic relationship with bees. The bees pollinate the blueberries, and in return, they drink the nectar the flowers produce.
Do Blueberries Have Seeds?
Yes! They sure do.
However, they’re not very noticeable. Unlike other fruits, like mangos, blueberry seeds are so small and soft that we often don’t even feel them when chowing down.
Interestingly enough, a lot of people assume the blueberry itself is the seed of the bush. Unfortunately, they are rather wrong as the seed is tucked away within the fruit itself. The more you know!
Can I Take the Seeds Out?
Yes, but be warned, it’s not easy.
If you are sensitive to fruit seeds and must remove them in order to enjoy them, blueberries may not be the best option for you.
The seeds are very difficult to remove and leave the fruit in a completely different form (either juice or, well, mush).
Of course, if you want to replant your seeds, you’ll need to separate them first too.
There are two main methods for removing blueberry seeds:
- Mash and swirl
- Blend and drain
For the “mash and swirl” method, you’ll need a fork or potato masher and a large bowl. After mashing your blueberries, fill a bowl with cold water. Add in the mashed berry mixture and lightly swirl it around.
After swirling, let the mixture sit. If all goes to plan, the seeds will sink to the bottom while the fleshy mush will float to the top.
Skim the mush off the surface and drain it to access the seeds. If you have a lot of blueberries, you may need to repeat the cold water/swirl steps several times to fully separate the mush and seeds.
The second method requires a blender, strainer, bowl, and cheesecloth. Blend your blueberries on a low speed for a good, long while.
While blending, line a strainer with your cheesecloth. Once they’ve been properly pulverized, pour them into the cheesecloth.
Place the whole shebang (mush, cheesecloth, and strainer) into a separate bowl and leave them to drain overnight. By the morning, the seeds should be left in the strainer while all the juice will be in the bowl.
How to Grow Blueberries with the Seeds
As I mentioned above, blueberries are incapable of self-pollination, which means their seeds may not be viable. So, extracting the seeds from a blueberry, whether store-bought or homegrown, won’t guarantee you a bush.
Purchasing from a nursery is the only sure-fire way to grow blueberries right off the bat, but experimenting is fun too!
Once you have your seeds following the methods above, you have to scarify them. Say what, now?
Scarifying means making a very shallow cut so the water can seep into the seed. After you’ve cut them, place them in damp paper towels and freeze them for 90 days.
Finally, it’s time to plant! I recommend starting them indoors and then transplanting them once they’re big enough to survive the great outdoors. Former farmer tips: peat moss is your friend and don’t forget to harden your seedlings!
If you want a more in-depth guide, check out Gardening Know How or UMaine’s helpful tips and tricks.
Psst – Maine has the best wild blueberries! I highly recommend a visit if you’re a blueberry fiend or enjoy a scenic forest or two.
Blueberries rose in popularity a few years back after they were labeled a “superfood.” But what does being a superfood actually mean?
Blueberries are very high in vitamin C, and a good source of vitamin A and manganese too. They’re full of fiber, which is good for gut health, plus they don’t have any sodium, which could help with blood pressure and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
However, their “superfood” label came about due to their antioxidant content! Blueberries are chock full of anthocyanins, which is the antioxidant that gives them their distinct color. This flavonoid could help prevent diseases and improve eyesight. It may even benefit short-term memory.
I think they earned the title “superfood,” don’t you?
Other Commonly Asked Blueberry Questions
Are Blueberries Acidic?
Yes! Blueberries are native to eastern North America, which naturally has fairly acidic soil. Blueberries have a pH level of 3-5, which makes them very acidic!
So, if you struggle with acid reflux, blueberries may not be the best for you.
What Color is the Inside of a Blueberry?
Many store-bought blueberries have white, yellow, or light green insides. That is not always the case with wild blueberries, which can be closer to blue or red.
Interestingly enough, cultivated blueberries (meaning those grown on a farm) have fewer anthocyanins, the antioxidant that colors them. So, farmed blueberries are almost always lighter in color.
Why are Blueberries Purple?
It all comes down to biological chemistry! Blueberries contain high levels of anthocyanins, an antioxidant also found in red raspberries, plums, and black grapes.
This antioxidant gives blueberries the rich blue and purple hue we all know and love. You could even think of it as natural and healthy food coloring!
Are Blueberries a Nightshade?
There are two answers to this question.
Blueberries are not in the nightshade family, but they do contain solanine, like other nightshade plants. Such plants include tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.
However, if you’re worried about telling the difference between a nightshade berry and a blueberry, never fear! Blueberries have a very notable crown whereas nightshade berries don’t.
Why are Blueberries So Expensive?
Blueberries require very specific growing conditions (remember the chilling period) to thrive. Plus, they do not like super hot temperatures. This recent summer with record heat waves probably slowed blueberry production down quite a bit!
On top of that, they also have to be hand-picked since they’re so small, which means soaring labor costs.
Plus, they deteriorate very easily and do not ripen once off the vine. So, they have to be picked when they’re perfectly ripe and then transported in refrigeration units extremely fast to make it onto your table.
How to Store Blueberries
Blueberries must be kept cold.
Blueberries prefer the chill, unlike bananas or apples, and they will go bad very fast if left out on the counter.
If you are going to wash them before refrigerating, make sure they are very dry, as moisture speeds up the deterioration process.
They’re also very easy to freeze and thaw out before cooking your next batch of blueberry muffins.
How Long Can Blueberries Sit Out?
Blueberries can only sit outside of the fridge for about two days before they start to go bad. Mold alert!
How to Wash Blueberries
Blueberries are delicate berries, so please handle them with caution. You can rinse them under cold water, so long as the stream doesn’t tear their skin.
Or, you can place them in a colander and dip them into a bucket of cold water. Swish them as best you can and dry them well.
If you’re a bit of a clean freak (no shame!), you could also do a 3:1 ratio of water to white vinegar and wash them in that.
Blueberries are a great addition to any chef’s repertoire, whether savory or sweet. Honestly, they work great in just about everything, from blueberry BBQ sauce or topped crème fraîche to the classic blueberry muffin. Not to mention, they’re extremely healthy and full of antixoidants.
Their seeds are small and soft, making them mostly negligible. For those interested in growing bushes from seed, I recommend purchasing seeds from a nursery for a higher success rate.
Of course, you can always take a risk and experiment with seeds you’ve separated yourself. Just for fun!
And, if you get a chance, go blueberry picking this summer! I promise it’ll be worth it.