The blueberry is the most popular wild berry in this part of the world. The tiny fruit lures thousands of Minnesotans to the North Woods every summer. Over the years my family has foraged wild blueberries from all corners of northern Minnesota from late June to late September — but July and August are the prime months. Many Minnesotans plan their vacations around the ripe berry season, with the most successful blueberry outings becoming family legends.
The Arrowhead Region has long been popular with berry pickers, but areas near Warroad, International Falls, Bemidji and Lake George also offer good picking. Blueberry plants are small shrubs standing about a foot tall. They grow in the sandy, acid soil of dry, open forests and clearings, and in rocky areas of coniferous forests. My family usually hunts for blueberries in jack pine forests.
Blueberry picking is not for the fainthearted. Pickers usually have to walk long distances. They will need to stand, squat and bend. They will need to endure blazing sunlight, fight off mosquitoes and deer flies, stay on the lookout for poison ivy and yield the right of way to black bears. Remember, the blueberry is the bear’s main course — whereas humans are in the patch to gather dessert. The fruit is important to other wildlife such as grouse, thrushes, the scarlet tanager and chipmunks.
Blueberries taste great, thanks to the 83 percent water content, but they’re also valuable for the nutrients they contain, including vitamins A and C, calcium, phosphorus, potassium and some of the B vitamins. Botanically, like the currant, gooseberry, grape and tomato, the blueberry is a true berry — a fleshy fruit usually containing many seeds. Blueberries have small, soft seeds, are juicy and sweet, and exhibit a distinct taste. Many American Indian tribes ate them both fresh and dried.
Jim Gilbert’s Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.