In James Bay, another blueberry season has come and gone. The real interesting fact is that the uses of blueberries continue well after our feeding frenzy is over. While blueberries do grow in Asia and Europe, it is the North American varieties, and more particular, the use of them by North American Indians that has led to significant contributions to modern society.
They are blue, round and tasty – besides jams, pancakes and au natural, what do you do with blueberries? The North American Blueberry Council says that 10 new products containing blueberries are introduced in North America every month. Okay, so we forgot about yogurt, cereal bars, ice-cream, candy, chocolate bars, soaps, shampoos, fruit roll-ups… but let’s pretend we are not at a grocery store.
Blueberries have always had multiple purposes for Aboriginals, including food and medicine. Early explorers recorded that American Indians would dry blueberries and store them to later add them to soups, stews and puddings (mixed with honey, water and ground meal from corn). Hmmm, perhaps we should revive some old recipes and make a special edition of Will on the Grill dedicated to blueberry recipes. Lest we forget, dried blueberries were also pounded together with dried meat to create pemmican. In fact, without hearty reserves of pemmican, it is unlikely that Lewis and Clark would have completed their historic voyage across North America to the Pacific Ocean. Not so well documented is our voyages across this continent, although not so perilous for us – there is no word
in our language for the wilderness as it is not wild to us, it was just one large grocery store and Walmart rolled into one.
What are the traditional medicines we derive from blueberries? Well, lean in a little closer: Women would make blueberry tea as a tonic for women giving birth. Blueberry tea can also be used as a cough medicine. It strengthens your body. In fact, during the U.S. Civil War, soldiers were given blueberry juice to keep up their strength. Blueberry juice can also fight bladder infections, fight bacteria, stop diarrhea, prevent cataracts in your eyes and is a healthy source of iron and vitamins A, C and E.
Now for the really big one. Blueberries contain antioxidants which are believed to fight cancer and aging. So we may have solved the mystery of why the Crees are so good looking and never seem to age. It was great wisdom and fortune that located us in prime blueberry country or perhaps a testament to the cultivating skills of our ancestors that transformed our lands to yield incredible harvests of this life giving and preserving plant.
So next year, while picking wild blueberries in Cree country, remember to give some thanks to the Creator and respect to our Ancestors for the gifts they have given us. I know next season, my family will be drying some blueberries for a year of stews, soups, perhaps puddings but most likely for healthy doses of blueberry tea and juice throughout the long winter.