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Head for the blackberry patch, just for the health of it

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Ripening blackberries go through a progression of color changes before getting to "black."

Ripening blackberries go through a progression of color changes before getting to “black.”

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — As growers gear up for Blackberry production, the rest of us wait in eager anticipation for that first bucket of ripe berries.

“There are few things in life that are clear-cut wins. However, eating blackberries may be one of them,” says Dr. Pam Duitsman, nutrition and health specialist with MU Extension. “These sweet, natural treats are readily available in the summer months, and delicious – especially when picked in season.”

The bloom on blackberries isn't as large as it is complex.

The bloom on blackberries isn’t as large as it is complex.

Blackberries offer only 30 calories for a one-half cup serving, as well as 15 milligrams of vitamin C. They’re also high in fiber, at 7.6 grams per serving. Adding blackberries to our diets boosts vitamin K, which activates proteins called clotting factors.

“Arguably the most distinctive health benefit of blackberries may be from their phytochemical components, which include anthocyanins — the phytochemicals that provide berries with their beautiful dark color,” Duitsman adds.

Research indicates that anthocyanins help protect cells from disease-causing free radicals, and some researchers suggest that a diet rich in these phytonutrients may help to fight cancer development, help to reduce blood cholesterol, blood pressure and inflammation, and lower the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

“More research is needed to investigate all of these relationships,” says Duitsman. “The U.S. Department of Agriculture ranks blackberries in the top five fruits with the highest antioxidant capability.”

Several long-term and large studies have validated findings that phytonutrients in blackberries have protective effects on age-related neurodegenerative diseases, and are associated with slower cognitive aging. Researchers report that these findings may have significant public health implications since the simple dietary modification of increasing berry intake could reduce memory decline in older adults.

The large seeds in blackberries are not always appreciated by consumers, but they do contain healthy omega-3 fatty acids, protein, dietary fiber, carotenoids, and healthy phytochemicals.

“Taking a family outing to one of the many you-pick berry farms in Missouri can be a great way to get more physical activity, and be rewarded with buckets of fresh berries,” says Duitsman.

She recommends always calling the you-pick farm to make sure their berries are in season, and to find out if containers are needed. Don’t pack down the berries since this can cause bruising and early rotting. Select fully ripe, plump, firm blackberries. When ripe, the berry will pull free from the plant fairly easily.

Blackberries will quickly mold if left at room temperature, refrigerate fresh berries immediately.

It is also possible to freeze berries and that should be done right away to preserve freshness. Wash carefully in cold water, discarding leaves, stems, and any soft under-ripe or defective berries. Drain the berries and allow them to dry. Then, spread them gently on a tray and freeze them. Once frozen, pack the berries into containers, leaving no headspace, seal, and freeze.

“Use fresh blackberries within three to six days. Even in the best conditions, the berries will only last in the refrigerator for about one week,” adds Duitsman.

For more information on nutrition contact any of these nutrition specialists in southwest Missouri: Dr. Pam Duitsman in Greene County at (417) 881-8909; Lindsey Gordon Stevenson in Barton County at (417) 682-3579; or Mary Sebade in Dallas County at (417) 345-7551. The regional office of the Family Nutrition Education Program is located in Springfield and can be reached at (417) 886-2059. Nutrition information is also available online

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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