Berry season is now upon us as the first-of-the-season local berries are coming in: the luscious, mouth-watering strawberry has come and gone, and soon to follow will be blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. Hurrah!! You can find all of these berries either wild or cultivated in our beautiful Vermont countryside throughout the summer and even into the early fall! How lucky we are to have all of these delicious and nutritious berries readily available to us locally! Even if we can’t pick them in our backyard, we have access to them at the Co-op, farm stands, and many pick-your-own fields. There are no better-tasting berries than locally grown ones, and they are much appreciated during Vermont’s short growing season. Seeing how the berries have so much to offer nutritionally, your summer cannot be complete without including them in your diet on a regular basis. In general, all berries are very good for you since they include many nutrients as well as flavonoids that contain antioxidants, which are so beneficial for our health! Below is a short review of our most popular berries but I can guarantee that other berries not mentioned here are excellent for your health too!
Strawberries are a member of the rose family and the word is believed to be derived from the fact that strawberries were thought to be brought to the market threaded on straws. Straw was and still is frequently used for mulching strawberry beds. Strawberries provide significant amounts of vitamin C, potassium, and fiber; in fact, strawberries contain some of the highest amounts of vitamin C of any fruit. Most fruits do not contain folic acid but strawberries do, so this is worth taking note of. Their red color comes from anthocyanin, an antioxidant. Other health attributes of this luscious fruit are its benefits for the cardiovascular system and for regulation of blood sugar, since in spite of the natural sugar content, blood sugar remains fairly low after consuming strawberries. The majority of the strawberries grown in this country come from California and Florida, and unfortunately, conventionally grown strawberries contain some of the highest pesticide residues due to their propensity to mold, growing so close to the ground. For this reason, organic strawberries are the wisest choice, and local strawberries are even a better choice—whether they are organic or not—since fewer pesticides are used by small farms than large commercial growers.
Blueberries have been enjoyed in this country for several centuries. Native Americans enjoyed wild blueberries fresh or baked into every imaginable baked good. Research has shown that blueberries are among the fruits (berries and other fruits) with the total highest antioxidant activity. They contain many types of antioxidants that have been shown to prevent the decline of cognitive health as we age, and evidence shows that they benefit virtually every body system—the nervous, muscular, and cardiovascular systems, to name a few. They are especially important for eye health too. Blueberries are a good source of vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. Conventionally grown blueberries contain minimal amounts of pesticide residues when compared to strawberries and raspberries. Blueberries are less apt to cause allergic reactions as well.
Raspberries are, like strawberries, a member of the rose family and have been reported to originate in Asia. There are many different varieties of raspberries, which come in yellow, red, deep purple, and black, all with their own distinct flavors. Raspberries are another berry that provides a good source of vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. They are a rich source of ellagic acid, a powerful phenolic antioxidant compound that has been shown to slow tumor growth. The ellagic acid is concentrated mainly in the seeds. Their anti-cancer benefits are high and include not only existing cancer cells. They have been shown to keep non-cancerous cells in that state as well. Early research is also showing that raspberries contain plant compounds that will help with the management of obesity because of their role in the metabolism of fat cells, so stay tuned on that. Their antioxidant state is at its highest when they are fully ripe but who can let raspberries stay around for very long? They have to be eaten within 24 hours, otherwise they rot. Moderate amounts of pesticide residues have been found on conventionally grown raspberries when they have been tested.
Enjoy berries freshly harvested or use them in smoothies, cold soups, pies, crisps, cobblers, muffins, or pancakes—the main thing is to eat your berries!!! If you like to pick them yourself or happen to have an abundance of them from your own plants, all berries can be frozen easily so that the benefits of these nutritious healthy delicacies can be reaped all year round. Place berries in a single layer on a cookie sheet until frozen and transfer them to a freezer bag or container. Below is one of my favorite desserts to make during berry season! I always make my own yogurt cheese but you can use Greek yogurt if you want to go the easier route!
by Chris Ellis, Staff Nutritionist