Family: Ericaceae, the Heath Family
Description: Native deciduous shrub. 4-7mm bell-shaped flowers, 1-3cm lanceolate leaves, twigs tangled, blue-purple berries with 5 persistent sepals
Habitat: Dry open areas, dry shady woodlands, sunny edges
Plant Parts Used: Berries, leaves
Food: Edible berries
Medicine: Diabetes, night vision, gynecological/pediatric aid
We are reaching the peak of blueberry season in Downeast Maine this first week of August, yet few people know all the wonders of this beautiful plant. Blueberries are well known for being a common wild edible, but Ray also recommends their use for treating diabetes. Once people suffering from diabetes eliminate most carbohydrates from their diets, eating more blueberries can act as a delicious diabetes medicine. Including huckleberries (Gaylussacia baccata, Ericaceae) and juneberries (Amelanchier, Rosaceae) into this regimen is even more effective. Arthur Haines also speaks about a compound that blueberries contain which improves the health of the rods in our eyes, thus improving night vision. The whole blueberry plant—leaves included—are remarkably high in anthocyanins, making this plant a noteworthy antioxidant. At least one Maine farm is selling more than just the fruits of this plant: Blueberry Tea and Barque.
Blueberries and their flowers have traditionally been used in a variety of native foods, but have also have been used specifically for medicine. The Algonquin have used lowbush blueberries for a variety of women’s and children’s health problems. Women would take an infusion of the leaves after miscarriage and an infusion of the roots to induce labor. This leaf infusion was also given to children for treating colic. The Makah also used an infusion of the leaves of bog blueberry, Vaccinium uliginosum, for women after childbirth.
Note: This post is part of my Plants and People series. See my Plants and People page for more information about the project and the people referenced in this post.
- Haines, Arthur. “Preserving Native Plant Knowledge.” Somes-Meynell Wildlife Sanctuary, Mt. Desert, Maine. 9 Oct. 2010. Lecture.
- Michener, Martin C. Botany Everywhere: Woods, Field, Home, and Garden Plants of NE USA, Third Edition. Hollis, NH: MIST Software Associates, Inc., 2009. PDF.
- Mittelhauser, Glen H., Linda L. Gregory, Sally C. Rooney, and Jill E. Weber. The Plants of Acadia National Park. Orono, Me.: University of Maine, 2010. Print.
- Moerman, Daniel E. Native American Medicinal Plants: an Ethnobotanical Dictionary. Portland, Or.: Timber, 2009. Print.
- Reitze, Raymond and Nancy. Personal interview. 8, 15 Oct. 2010.