Berry season is in full swing and two of the most nutrient packed varieties of berries couldn’t be farther apart. Blackberries are found everywhere and the bushes grow like weeds. Huckleberries, on the other hand, are the jewels of North Idaho and in fact the state fruit. The small round berries grow on shrubs residing in the most secret and coveted places in the mountains. For now, the best way to find huckleberries is still to search out those secret places where the best plants grow.
One of the mysteries behind huckleberries is that they won’t grow just anywhere, and attempts to transplant or domesticate them almost always end in failure. Its sister, the blueberry was domesticated 100 years ago. They ripen from July through August (the same time as blackberries), the higher the elevation, the later they ripen. Huckleberries are a bit more tart than blueberries and contain tiny seeds that give them a unique crunchy texture.
Free radicals are byproducts of metabolism. They are capable of causing human cells to lose their structure, function and eventually destroying them. Antioxidants help to stabilize or deactivate free radicals before they attack cells. One serving of wild huckleberries has more than five times antioxidant power than most other fruits or vegetables, thus helping a person to fight against aging, cancer and health diseases. Huckleberry and blackberry colors vary from bright red to dark purple to blue. The blue and purple colors provide a specific antioxidant called “Ellagic Acid.” These antioxidants are beneficial in making the blood less likely to clot, which is important in preventing heart disease.
The case for berries’ brain benefits was recently published in a study the authors call the largest and longest of its kind. Scientists at Brigham and Women’s Hospital analyzed data on berry consumption among 16,010 women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study. The women completed dietary questionnaires every four years beginning in 1980, prior to cognitive testing; they were tested for memory and other cognitive function every two years between 1995 and 2001. The study found that women who consumed berries several times a week saw slower mental decline – equivalent to up to two and a half years of delayed cognitive aging. Since both huckleberries and blackberries offer a powerhouse of antioxidants you may want to consider eating them daily when in season.
Both berries make great jams, pies, cobblers or preserves. Serve them fresh on yogurt, make smoothies, fruit salads or add them to a leafy green salad with almonds, feta and raspberry vinaigrette dressing.
A friend of mine told me recently that when it comes to berries and fond childhood memories, “mom would turn everything good.” I like that. Happy picking!