Wild Maine blueberries are special in more ways than one. Learn why they love to grow in Maine, how the berries are harvested, five favorite recipes, and where to find the ultimate wild Maine blueberry experience.
Wild blueberries reach peak ripeness in mid-August.
Photo Credit : Courtesy of Wyman's Blueberries
One of the sweetest ways to celebrate summer in New England is with a few quarts of in-season wild blueberries, and nowhere are they more celebrated than in Maine, where they’re the official state fruit. So what is it about wild Maine blueberries that makes them so special? They’re different from the large, cultivated berries sold in most supermarkets: They’re smaller and more delicate. They’re also more intensely flavored, as if some plant breeder took a shrink ray to a plump berry and concentrated all the flavor into a fruit the size of a peppercorn or a green pea. Freshly picked, they taste sweet, a little wine-like, and somehow blue.
If you’ve ever traveled north of Bar Harbor in August, you may have seen the green blueberry barrens covering wide swaths of meadows and hillsides. Here, wild Vaccinium angustifolium thrives, thanks to acidic soil and cold temperatures. One of just three native North American berries (the others are cranberries and wild grapes), they’re difficult to plant or transport, though determined gardeners with just the right blend of acidic soil and abundant sunshine may manage to grow them. As such, they’re as much a natural resource as an agricultural crop — they’re managed, not planted. And like many natural resources, they’re connected underground. All of Maine’s wild blueberries are part of a network of rhizomes that grows from northern Maine through Atlantic Canada and Quebec. They thrive in lands cleared when the glaciers retreated about 12,000 years ago. And they are integral to the culture and economy of coastal Down East Maine.
Wild Blueberry Benefits
Wild blueberries are among those special fruits called “superfoods,” and it’s a well-earned label. They have twice as many antioxidants as the larger “highbush” blueberries. And their deep indigo color comes from compounds called anthocyanins, which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties that hold promise for the treatment of cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. Though they’re sweet, they have a low glycemic index, which makes wild Maine blueberries a perfect choice for anyone who’s trying to control their carbs.
How the Wild Blueberry Harvest Works
The bushes grow low to the ground, topping out at just about two feet high, and harvesting them by hand requires stooping over with a specially designed rake and scooping the fruit off the branches (much of the commercial crop is now picked by mechanical harvesters). Typically, farmers bring in around 80,000 pounds of the fruit, much of which is sold frozen by Wyman’s, the largest wild blueberry company in the state. The fruit also makes its way into countless muffins, pancakes, pies, jams, syrups, and even a wonderful sparkling wine called Bluet.
How to Have the Ultimate Wild Maine Blueberry Experience
To really immerse yourself in Maine’s wild blueberry culture, head to Washington County for the Machias Wild Blueberry Festival, which takes place the third weekend in August (after a Covid-mandated hiatus, it is back in 2022!). There’s live music, bake-offs, a craft fair, and even a blueberry-themed musical written and performed by local berry enthusiasts. Located three and a half hours from Portland, it’s pretty far north, but this is the most dramatically beautiful and untouched coastal landscape in Maine — a true bucket-list destination. And while you’re up there, be sure to stop at Wild Blueberry Land in Columbia Falls. Built in 2001, this adorable blueberry-shaped building houses a shop, museum, and bakery (the blueberry pie is excellent!).
And what would a tribute to wild Maine blueberries be without some of our favorite ways to eat them? Here are five: