Every summer I go berrying and freeze the harvest so I will have berries to last throughout the year. I usually pick black raspberries (pictured above; they’re my favorite), red raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries at Westmoreland Berry Farm in Virginia’s Northern Neck. (Since my focus is black raspberries, I go when those are ready, which is too late for strawberries. But strawberries are good too! I made need to find a closer farm to get strawberries prior to my big annual trek down 301.) This year, however, Westmoreland had storms and heat that meant a poor black raspberry crop, so I went to Orr’s Farm Market in Martinsburg, West Virginia instead.
Benefits of Berries
Berries are rich in vitamin C, minerals, and a variety of antioxidants, phytochemicals, and flavonoids, which have a number of health benefits, including prevention of various cancers.
The darker the berry, the more anthocyanins are present. Anthocyanins have strong antioxidant activity, and according to Science Daily:
Anthocyanins appear to work by inhibiting compounds that weaken the immune system and stimulate tissue inflammation. They can also destroy harmful free-radical molecules that attack cells and cause aging, heart disease, and cancer.
Happily, anthocyanins survive freezing, so you can pick berries in the summer and freeze for use throughout the year.
Each type of berry has a host of other health promoting benefits, far more than I’ve listed here. Type “benefits of ____” (berry type) and you’ll find out how amazing they are. Here are a just a few benefits of my favorite berries.
Black raspberries, also called black caps or thimbleberries, have incredibly high antioxidant activity, three times higher than blackberries and red raspberries. They have been shown to have very strong anti-tumor activity and so are considered helping in preventing cancer.
Black raspberries have high levels of anthocyanins, the excellent antioxidant mentioned above. The darker the berry the better, so ensure your fruit is good and ripe. Fully ripe berries should pull off with ease.
Red raspberries have impressive amounts of manganese and Vitamin C, as well as fiber, folate, B2, B3, and other nutrients. Their phytonutrient ellagic acid is an antioxidant. According to research quoted in The World’s Healthiest Foods,
Raspberries possess almost 50% higher antioxidant activity than strawberries, three times that of kiwis, and ten times the antioxidant activity of tomatoes, shows research conducted in the Netherlands and published in the journal BioFactors.
The biggest contribution to raspberries’ antioxidant capacity is their ellagitannins, a family of compounds almost exclusive to the raspberry, which are reported to have anti-cancer activity. Vitamin C contributes about 20% of the total antioxidant capacity, accounting for up to 30 milligrams in 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of fruit. Raspberries anthocyanins, especially cyanidin and pelagonidin glycosides, make up another 25%. And more good news: freezing and storing raspberries does not significantly affect their antioxidant activity, although in this study, their concentration of vitamin C was halved by the freezing process.
The article says they protect against macular degeneration as well.
Wineberries are an invasive plant in the US. They were imported from Asia as breeding stock, but due to lack of natural predators, they are out-competing native plants. The fruits, which are related to raspberries but smaller, provide less food and habitat for local birds and insects. If you find wineberries, pick all you can, and if you’re ambitious, destroy as many of the plants as you can.
I cannot find much about the health benefits of wineberries right now, but because they are related to raspberries, I would imagine their health benefits would be similar.
Blackberries have a high tannin content. Tannins are astringent and may help alleviate diarrhea. When I was having a brief spate of recurrent diarrhea for a few weeks, I looked up folk remedies, one of which was blackberry brandy. I got a bottle and took a shot. I was astonished at how well and quickly it worked! Now I keep a bottle on hand just in case. (Meanwhile, whenever you have diarrhea, you should also increase intake of yogurt, lactofermented vegetables, and other foods with plenty of good bacteria to help your gut get back on track–but the blackberry brandy trick can help you quickly get the bowel urgency back under control.)
Blackberries also have good levels of anthocyanins, and the darker the berry the better. I have found that blackberries can be dark and look ripe, but are still tart, indicating they are not really ripe yet. If you look closely, a truly ripe blackberry will have tiny “hairs” that start to stick out all over. In addition, the berry should come free of the cane with the lightest of tugs. Those berries are sweet and delicious–an indication that they are fully ripe.
Blueberries are very high in antioxidants too, as well as Vitamin C and some fiber. As with many foods, nutrition is better in organic versions, as stated here on The World’s Healthiest Foods website:
Organically grown blueberries turned out to have significantly higher concentrations of total phenol antioxidants and total anthocyanin antioxidants than conventionally grown blueberries, as well as significantly higher total antioxidant capacity.
That website lists a lot of significant benefits from eating blueberries, including cognitive, cardiovascular, and anti-cancer benefits, as well as protective effects for eye health.
Uses for Berries
Berries are great fresh on their own or with cream or whipped cream. They can be added, fresh or frozen, to smoothies. Put them on oatmeal or in pancakes or make them (occasionally!) into pies or cobblers, muffins, and raw milk ice cream. Research indicates they don’t lose their antioxidant effects even after 6 months of freezing, so picking your own and freezing them is an economical way to have them throughout the year.
One surprising thing I just read is that blueberries have an affinity for milk protein, and apparently lose their antioxidant properties when eaten with milk (in smoothies, yogurt, with cream, etc.). So to get the full benefits of blueberries, better to eat them on their own, fresh or frozen, and not just before or after you eat something with milk.
I also love to use them fresh atop a berry tart. Recipe in my next post!
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Filed under: The Food by Jill