You already know what a lifelong fan I am of blueberries. Over the years, I’ve reported on many studies showing this fruit’s amazing benefits for both body and brain.
Just one cup of blueberries provides nearly 4 grams of fiber, one-quarter of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C, and over one-third of your daily dose of vitamin K.
This colorful fruit is also rich in antioxidants, which help prevent cancer and promote healthy aging. And blueberries protect blood vessels, reduce blood pressure, and lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.
But perhaps most striking of all are the many studies showing how blueberries help prevent memory loss and dementia.
And those studies just keep coming. Today, I’d like to share new research on blueberries’ cognitive benefits, along with tips on how you can grow these hearty, healthy fruits yourself for just pennies a year.
And I’ll reveal an easy, effective way to get the benefits of blueberries year-round—even if you don’t have a green thumb.
Blueberries improve cognitive function in older adults
New research out of the University of Exeter in the U.K. shows that blueberries can significantly boost cognitive function and memory in people in their 60s and 70s.1
Researchers gathered 26 healthy men and women, ages 65 to 77, and gave them either concentrated blueberry juice—the equivalent of 1 cup of fresh blueberries—or a placebo once a day.
After 12 weeks of this regimen, the researchers gave the participants a series of cognitive tests, and also did MRI scans of their brains.
Not only did the blueberry group perform substantially better on the tests than the placebo group, but they also had better blood flow and activation in the memory and cognition centers of their brains.
So imagine—just 1 cup of blueberries a day…in your morning steel-cut (not rolled) oatmeal or yogurt, as part of a summer salad, or on their own as a healthy dessert…can help supercharge your brainpower well into your 70s.
There’s just one problem—blueberries tend to be expensive. Especially the organic ones I recommend. But there’s a simple solution to this problem.
Read on and I’ll tell you how easy it is to cultivate virtually unlimited amounts of blueberries in your own backyard, patio, or balcony.
How to have a blue thumb…even if you’re not a green thumb
Start by buying a small blueberry bush at your local nursery, grocer, or online as quickly as possible. Ideally, you’ll want to plant it around the date of your area’s last frost.
The type of bushes available will depend on your climate zone. But if you can, choose lowbush, or wild, blueberries. As I’ve noted before, these types of blueberries naturally have more nutrients than their cultivated highbush cousins. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, lowbush blueberries can be cultivated in climate zones 3 to 7, which covers most of the U.S. (Although they only grow naturally in the thin, post-glacial soils and forests of New England, the upper Midwest, and southern Canada.)
Lowbush blueberries are not only perennial, meaning they’ll keep coming back in your garden year after year, but they also spread via their roots. So make sure to plant your new blueberry bush in a place where it will have room to grow. If you’re planting more than one bush, space each one about 5 feet apart.
If you don’t have a yard, blueberry bushes will also thrive in large pots or planters on a balcony or patio. Just follow the same steps I’ve outlined below.
Blueberry planting 101
Start by choosing a spot that gets sun about three-quarters of the day (blueberries will tolerate shade, but usually only later in the day).
Blueberries tend to be picky about their soil, so choose an area that’s well drained. You also want acidic soil, with a pH below 5. Not sure of your soil’s pH? You can buy a soil pH test kit. A good local nursery should be able to tell you if soil in your area tends to be acidic or alkaline.
Dig a hole twice the size of the blueberry plant’s root ball, ruffle the roots with your hands before placing the plant in the hole, and backfill with compost. You can also toss in conifer sawdust to lower the pH if need be.
After planting, water your new bush well, since the roots are shallow and the plant can become dehydrated. Mulching also helps preserve moisture and prevents weed growth—you can use sawdust, pine bark (but not from cedar or redwood trees), or grass clippings (which you really need to save for mulching, and not haul away and discard as refuse). Pine mulch has the benefit of lowering soil pH as well.
Don’t forget to prune
After about three years, when the bush starts to thrive, begin pruning it on a regular basis to help the strongest branches grow. This will also avoid over-fruiting, which allows the remaining berries to grow bigger.
Eliminate low growth around the bottom of the bush, clear out dead wood, and remove discolored or short branches. Overall, you’ll want to prune about half of the woody parts from the bush in the late fall or winter, after your berry harvest.
In the spring, when the flowers bloom, cut most of them with small clippers or scissors. This will encourage your bush to save its energy for producing fruit rather than flowers.
If you fertilize, use only organic forms to prevent damage to the bush and berries. You’ll also improve your health and the health of the environment if you avoid pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
Fertilize in the spring, just when the leaves begin to break out from dormancy, and in the fall after pruning.
When grown this way, your blueberry bush will produce fruit for up to five decades (and you will still be able to remember when you planted it). If you plant two or more bushes, try different varieties of the fruits for cross-pollination, which will help increase the yield.
Your blueberries can be consumed raw; added to pies, muffins, or scones (just be sure to use natural sweeteners, not refined sugars, as I discussed on page 1); or squeezed into juices.
You can also preserve fresh blueberries by canning them at home (choose a recipe with no added sugar), or freeze them so you can enjoy them year-round.
To freeze blueberries, rinse off the whole fruit with water, spread the blueberries in a single layer on a pan or cookie sheet, and place them in the freezer for a couple of hours. Then transfer them from the pan to an airtight plastic bag, and label the bag with the date. Your frozen berries should be consumable for up to a year.
Of course, if this seems like too much trouble, you can get all of the health benefits of fresh blueberries in a powdered, water-soluble blueberry extract, which can be added to any beverage, smoothie, or juice.
Just be sure to look for a food-quantity dose (400 mg) of powdered blueberry, which you really can’t get in a pill (it might have been fine for the “Jetsons,” but don’t kid yourself). And you won’t find it, nor the right doses of anything you need, in any of those once-per-day, useless little multivitamin pills.
For an even bigger health boost, look for blueberry powder, and blueberry blends, combined with other food powders.
Even if you don’t have a green thumb, that’s a blue-ribbon prescription for both brain and body benefits.
1“Enhanced task related brain activation and resting perfusion in healthy older adults after chronic blueberry supplementation.” Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2017 Mar 1.