Wild blueberries are super nutritious, packed with flavour and grow in beautiful landscapes. Here's our guide to where, when and why you will love picking wild blueberries - one of nature's free superfoods! Plus tasty recipe ideas!
Wild blueberries across the world
Wild blueberries are not just one variety, but several within the genus Vaccinium. Some of the common names you might come across are:
- Bilberry (UK)
- Whortleberry (South England)
- Blaeberry (Scotland)
- Huckleberry (US)
- Myrtille (France)
- Heidelbeere (Germany/Austria)
- Aðalbláber (Iceland)
- Blåbär (Sweden)
- Mustikka (Finland)
- Jagody (Poland)
They are not cultivated, but have grown wild for centuries across cool landscapes.
Wild vs cultivated blueberries
So what’s the difference between wild blueberries and their cultivated relatives?
Wild blueberries grow on bushes growing close to the ground, unlike the cultivated variety, which often grow on high bushes.
One of the first noticeable differences between wild blueberries and their cultivated cousin, is their size.
Wild blueberries are naturally smaller. They also grow individually on the bushes, not in large clusters.
Another significant difference can be seen when you cut them open.
Wild blueberries have a red/purple flesh, whereas blueberries are green. You’ll quickly realise this as they stain your hands purple as you pick them!
All that additional colour is from the much higher level of anthocyanins, an antioxidant, that wild blueberries contain.
The nutritional value of wild blueberries is also different. So much so that they are known as a Super Fruit compared to normal blueberries. They contain higher levels of antioxidants, increased fibre and manganese means that they are considered even healthier. For 1 cup wild blueberries, there’s just 80 calories.
Where to find
Wild blueberries can be found in temperate and glacial climates and thrive on acidic, nutrient-poor soils in the Northern Hemisphere.
In North America, vaccinium angustifolium grows wild across Maine, Atlantic Canada and Quebec.
The European Wild Blueberry, commonly called the Bilberry or vaccinium myrtillus, loves to grow on Alpine slopes, forests and moorlands across Northern Europe.
In a lot of places where bilberries grow, there is freedom to roam, or “everyman’s right” which includes for the collecting of berries for personal use.
But it’s always a good idea to check what laws or regulations apply locally or ask the landowner.
How to identify
The bushes grow low to the ground, from 10-50cm high. The small leaves are bright green, turning to red in autumn. They grow alternately on the stem, have a pointed oval shape, with fine serrations along the edge.
When to pick
They can fruit as early as May, or as late September, depending on the climate and altitude. Late summer is typically peak season.
We pick them in the Austrian alps in August and September.
How to pick
When the berries have turned completely dark blue/purple, they are ripe and ready to pick. Unripe berries will still have a pale purple or pink colour. Simply pick the berries by hand and collect them in a container.
Combs are also used to pick wild berries in larger quantites. They work by raking the blueberries off the plant and collecting them.
It is very important that you always wash the berries before eating them. They can be a potential transmitter of Echinococcus infection.
Where to buy
If you can't go out and pick them yourself, you can sometimes find fresh wild blueberries to purchase in markets when in season.
If you can’t go out and pick them yourself, you can sometimes find fresh wild blueberries to purchase in markets when in season.
Frozen berries can be found all year round.
- In America, here is a list of suppliers.
- In Germany and Austria look for Heidelbeere in the frozen section, you can check the ingredients or their size to see if they are Wildheidelbeeren.
- In the UK Ocado stocks organic wild blueberries. Polish food stores are also a good source, look for Jagody.
We recommend these organic dried bilberries as a great ingredient to have in your pantry.
After you’ve gleefully enjoyed a handful of freshly picked and washed berries, there’s lots of lovely things you can make with your foraged blueberries.
Why not try:
- Wild Blueberry Porridge, a healthy and nutritious way to start an energetic day
- Wild Blueberry Pancakes – our favourite way to wake up!
- Wild Blueberry Jam – simply cook in proportion with jam sugar for a delicious preserve or make our easy blueberry chia jam
- Tarte aux Myrtilles is a traditional French patisserie. Just make it like our French Apple Tart, but with a topping of blueberries, a few tablespoons of ground almonds and sugar instead of the apples.
- Pierogi – use wild blueberries to make vegan polish dumplings.
- Wild Blueberry Fool is a lovely summer dessert, mix vegan yoghurt or coconut cream with sweetened berries
One of thing we love most about picking wild berries is that it is a reason to get out and enjoy the beauty of nature. Hiking up the side of a mountain feels pretty fantastic when you know there's a reward of sweet berry goodness waiting for you at the top!
We hope you've enjoyed our Guide to Picking Wild Blueberries. Enjoy them! And let us know in the comments where you've been picking and what you've made with your blue treasure!
Love from your purple handed,
Sophie and Paul