Health

Blueberries Aren't Nearly as Old as You Think They Are

Published On 07/12/2016 Published On 07/12/2016

Summer just doesn't seem like summer without blueberries topping parfaits and mojitos, or spread out in an American flag-style cake on the Fourth of July. They're as American as fast food and credit card debt. Except, you know, they're actually good for you.

But the tiny berries, which are chock-full of antioxidants, are much, much younger than Uncle Sam himself. In fact, the beloved fruit is only 100 years old, which means there are so many American treasures older than blueberries. Coca-Cola! Hot dogs! Waffle cones! Betty White (well, almost)!

True, blueberries have always been A Thing -- it's not like they were created in a lab -- but farmers and scientists didn't know how to domesticate them, making them rare, wild-harvested treats. For the longest time, blueberry bushes would be planted in the best soil, treated with natural fertilizer like other crops, and still die. Major bummer, until a botanist named Frederick Coville figured out that blueberries actually needed acidic oil to survive, and did better in colder temps.

A cranberry farmer from New Jersey, Elizabeth White, happened to read Colville's Experiments in Blueberry Culture (this is what happens when people don't have Netflix), and the duo set off experimenting and growing the bushes on her family's farmland. After five years, they had major success! The first domesticated blueberries made it to market in 1916, and summer produce has never been the same.

While White and Colville continued working together for almost 20 years, Colville pursued other sciencey things, like creating the National Arboretum and being chairman of the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research. Again, no Netflix. He may not exactly be a household name -- unless you live in a house full of botany nerds -- but his papers have lived on in the Smithsonian Institution and National Arboretum since his death in 1937. White went on to advocate for the growing of blueberry bushes so hard that her home state adopted the berries as its official fruit. You're welcome, New Jersey.

It may have taken farmers a while to figure out how to grow and pick the delicious berries, but thank God they did. Otherwise, muffins and pancakes would be trapped forever in banana-nut hell. 

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Christina Stiehl is a Health writer for Thrillist who eats blueberries every day. Yes, blueberry bagels count. Follow her on Twitter: @ChristinaStiehl.

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