By: Oona Molyneaux, USM Eco-Rep
Growing up in Downeast, Maine I always looked forward to the month of August. I always have and always will know that August is my favorite month of the year, mostly because this month brings an abundance of wild blueberries, and the excitement that comes with the month(+) long harvest. Wild blueberries have been a part of Maine’s environment and culture since the 16th century.
They were utilized in Maine by the indigenous Wabanaki people for their unique flavor and nutrition centuries before Europeans arrived on the continent. Our state and our people have relied on this unique berry for many things. It is a staple in smoothies, baked goods, and even savory dishes. The Maine blueberry is so iconic that it is even the state’s official berry. This article will take a look into the past of the native blueberry to understand the significance it has in our culture today.
The vast red blueberry barrens that we see in autumn are a result of the glaciers that covered Maine 35,000 years ago. These native blueberries are unique, because of the way that they grow. Lowbush blueberries ripen in late July and produce a small sweet berry that tastes different from highbush blueberries commonly found in grocery stores. . Blueberries grow particularly well in Maine’s naturally acidic and low fertility soils. They have also adapted to survive the harsh winters. It was not until the 1840’s that the cultivation and harvest of blueberries began in Maine.
Before the industrialization of the native blueberry, the berry was used by the indigenous Wabanaki people. Blueberries have many nutritious and useful qualities which theWabanaki people recognized.. They were dried to make blueberry cakes, used to season soups and stews, and also to cure meat. Blueberriesalso hold medicinal qualities. Often they were boiled down to a syrup that was used as a cough remedy. Additionally, the berries rich blue color was also used for dying purposes. These examples just begin to tell the story of how diverse the Maine state 1 berry really is and its importance to the indigenous population.
As the desire for Maine’s wild blueberry increased, it became ingrained in so much of our culture. From becoming the official Maine state berry to the release of the Robert McClosky’s Blueberries for Sal, the Maine blueberry became a national icon. The native blueberries have deep histories in Maine, and have been cherished for centuries.. Whether you are a native Mainer or have chosen it as your home, it is our responsibility to honor the blueberry and protect it’s cultivation for centuries to come.
1 Teach Me About Food and Farms, 2020.
https://teachmefoodandfarms.org/dev/wp-content/uploads/WB_History_and_Geo.pdf Teach Me About Food and Farms https://digitalcommons.library.umaine.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1174&context=ers_facpub Jacobson, G. L. (2009). Maine’s climate future: An initial assessment (Rev. ed.). Orono, Me: University of Maine.