We all know what berries are. We see them growing on trees, shrubs and vines. And there are usually plenty available in our local grocery stores and farmer’s markets.
They’re usually small, round, brightly colored and juicy. They’re sweet, sour or tart.
Generally berries don’t have pits. But they often contain seeds or pips, and pulp. The edible ones are usually delicious. Whether eaten plain or used in pies, cakes, preserves or jams.
The most common berries for us in America are strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries.
Berries have been around the block
Now that I’ve whetted your appetite for a bowl of flavorful berries – preferably a mixed group with plenty of your favorites – I want to take a look at a different aspect of berries. Namely, unusual facts about these popular fruits.
First though, a bit of history. Berries have been feeding animals and humans since long before mankind took up agricultural activities.
Even when hunter-gatherers were focused on bringing meat back to the tribe, they feasted on berries along the way. Ancient Romans believed berries had medicinal qualities.
In addition to eating them off trees, Native Americans mixed berries with meat and fats while preparing pemmican.
By the 14th century, strawberries were being grown in French gardens. The first commercial crop of blueberries was produced in the early 1900s.
A black raspberry and a red blackberry?
That’s the extent of most people’s knowledge about berries. But today I want to share with you some additional juicy tidbits.
Let’s start with the coloring. Did you know that blackberries don’t start off as black? And that raspberries aren’t always red?
Blackberries begin life as red. They become black over time as they ripen. Don’t assume that a red berry you come across in the forest isn’t a blackberry.
Raspberries are usually red, but not always. They also come in yellow, gold, purple and black. The sweetest of the bunch are gold.
Good for what ails you
The ancient Romans were right. Some berries do have medicinal properties. They support digestive and heart health, and improve blood sugar. They also fight inflammation and strengthen immune defense.
Strawberries can help alleviate headaches. They contain natural salicylates. That’s an active ingredient in aspirin. It’s just one of many ways Mother Nature helps us take care of physical problems naturally.
Strawberries can also brighten your smile. They contain malic acid, which is a natural teeth whitener. If you mix them with baking soda, you might be able to stop buying whitening strips.
Berries can also help you stay better organized. The USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging says berries boost brain activity. They can activate a natural housekeeping mechanism and protect brain cells from free radicals.
Miscellaneous berry oddities
And now for a few miscellaneous oddities about berries. Most fruits continue to ripen after being picked. Not so with raspberries. They stop growing, so they should be eaten quickly.
And how about this? Some pilots “blow dry” cherries following rain so they don’t split open while growing.
Just as no two snowflakes are exactly alike, the bumps on blackberries and raspberries are always different. They’re actually tiny fruits growing together.
Called drupletes, the number of these humps is directly related to how many times bees have landed on the berry flower to pollinate it.
More fun berry facts
Even though we don’t refer to them as such, bananas, avocados, pumpkins and tomatoes are considered “true berries.” That’s because they grow from flowers containing just one ovary.
At first glance it may seem like bananas grow on trees. But they actually grow on a plant. The tiny black spots you see inside your bananas are sterile seeds.
Avocados need pollinators just like other berries do. The brown pit inside an avocado is actually a seed. An average avocado tree can grow 150 avocados.
Pumpkins grow from seeds on vines. Due to their weight, you won’t see them hanging on those vines for long. Pollinators are needed to help them grow.
Seeds grow in the innermost layer of tomatoes. They are technically considered berries due to their structure.
This is berry interesting
The tiny hairs on raspberries and blackberries are called “styles.” They protect the berry from damage and can be eaten.
A strawberry plant can clone itself numerous times. It’s one of the ways it can reproduce. The other is through pollination.
Bloom is what gives blueberries its dusky shade of blue. It helps seal in moisture as a natural barrier.
There are more than 200 different varieties of raspberries. And an average of 200 tiny seeds on the outside of each strawberry.
Wrapping it up
Some berries are poisonous to humans. Including nightshade and pokeweed. Others are poisonous when unripe but edible when ripe. Such as white mulberry, red mulberry and elderberry.
The study of blackberries is called batology. The study of bats is called chiropterology. Go figure.
The folks who promote blueberries have their act together. They’ve designated April 28 as National Blueberry Pie Day. And July 11 as National Blueberry Muffin Day.
Finally, the word “berry” comes from the Old English “berie,” which originally meant “grape.”
I hope you learned a few things about berries today. I know I did while doing the research. Maybe that knowledge will help them taste even better to us than they already do.