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Strong medicine grows on Georgia blueberry bushes

By Gerard Krewer
University of Georgia

For more than 60 years, the University of Georgia's blueberry-breeding program has developed varieties adapted to the state, where farmers now have the fifth-largest blueberry production in the nation.

Growers have planted millions of blueberry bushes as a cash crop. Homeowners have planted countless bushes, too. Everyone knew the delicious berries were great to eat. But only recently has their hidden health value been revealed.

It turns out that this humble fruit, native to the river basins of south Georgia, is one of the world's great health treasures.

Antioxidants

Blueberries are one of the richest sources of antioxidants, which help human bodies prevent cancer, heart disease and stroke.

Scientists have long known that blueberries contain vitamins A, C and E. This is where some of the antioxidants are located. However, anthocyanins and other compounds, some of which provide their rich blue color, are blueberries' major sources of antioxidants.

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Tufts University have shown that blueberry extract can improve the motor skills of both mice and humans.

Mice fed blueberry extract had improved memory, too. Research is under way to see if blueberries can improve human memory.

Still more

Blueberries also contain the cancer-fighting compound, ellagic acid. And they have significant amounts of dietary fiber, which helps prevent colon cancer.

Recent research by the UGA food scientists indicates that phenolic compounds found in blueberries work against colon cancer cell lines.

These amazing berries contain a compound that helps prevent urinary infections, too, by keeping bacteria from attaching to the urinary tract lining.

As you can see, blueberries have benefits from the top to the bottom. The harvest is in full swing in Georgia, too, so you can get fresh blueberries now from the grocery store or produce market.

Freeze 'em

Frozen blueberries are another economical source of health benefits. You can pick you own at many Georgia farms and freeze them. Or you can buy them in plastic bags at the store.

For the past year, I've been eating them almost every day with my breakfast cereal. I've much felt better since I started regularly including blueberries in my diet.

If you'd like to plant blueberries in your yard, they're fairly easy to care for and can provide years of health-enhancing berries.

The on-line Georgia Extension publication, "Home Garden Blueberries," ( 002C pubs.caes.uga.edu/caespubs/pubcd/l106-w.html 277F ) can show you how to grow them.

Or ask your UGA Extension Service county agent, who can also direct you to any nearby pick-your-own blueberry farm.

(Gerard Krewer is an Extension Service horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

(Gerard Krewer is a Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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