Meet the Honeyberry: A Blueberry-Like Fruit Full of Antioxidants
Look out, blueberries! Honeyberries are the up-and-coming fruit taking over the cooler parts of the country (think Minnesota or Washington) due to their ability to thrive in lower temperatures. And their peak season is upon us. While they look a bit like a blueberry's odd-shape relative, these fruits come from a plant that is in the honeysuckle family (sometimes they're even called blue honeysuckle). They also go by the name "haskap," which is what they're called in Japan, where they originated. Other than Japan, the first documented honeyberries are believed to be from Russia and China as well, dating back to the 1700s.
University of Missouri Extension horticulture specialist Patrick Byers says the berries got their U.S. start in the Pacific Northwest but have quickly expanded to many areas of the Midwest in recent years, including Southwest Missouri and even further south. They've been popping up in farmer's markets in these areas in early spring for the past few years, usually before other locally grown spring fruits like blueberries and strawberries. Besides providing fruity goodness early in the season, honeyberries also pack a nutritional punch that make them well worth seeking out or even growing yourself.
What Does a Honeyberry Taste Like?
Honeyberry farmer Jim Riddle compares the flavor to a slightly underripe blueberry or blackberry, and they can be eaten all the ways you would a typical berry. So if you happen to come across these in your local market, swap them out in your favorite blueberry jam or strawberry muffin recipe. Riddle co-owns Blue Fruit Farm with his wife, Joyce Ford, in Winona, Minnesota. The couple has grown several different types of blue-tinted perennial berries (hence the farm's name) for more than 30 years but decided to add honeyberries to the mix about six years ago. Riddle prefers eating honeyberries raw, but says they're also excellent for whipping up a good jam, or even for making a fruit wine.
Health Benefits of Honeyberries
Your immune system will get a big boost from honeyberries, thanks to their high antioxidant content. Tested against other common berries like blueberries, mulberries, and blackberries, honeyberries consistently produced the highest level of anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are created by the natural pigments in blue- and red-tinted fruit, which has been linked to improved eye health and all sorts of anti-inflammatory benefits such as reducing gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) or rheumatoid arthritis. These berries don't stop at antioxidants, though: they're also a valuable source of fiber and vitamin C.
Growing Honeyberries at Home
As long as you live between USDA Hardiness Zones 2-7, honeyberries would do well in your home garden. Because the plants thrive in cooler temps, Byers has found that honeyberries are able to grow without needing much in the way of pest control. He also says the plants aren't particularly picky as far as soil goes, "as long as it has good drainage, a reasonable amount of organic matter, and is well balanced in nutrients."
Honeyberries need at least two varieties (among the dozens available) planted near enough to each other to cross-pollinate. Riddle recommends planting a mix of sweeter varieties such as Borealis, Aurora, and Cinderella honeyberries.
Once planted, honeyberries don't take long to mature and produce fruit; you'll usually start seeing fruit ready for picking in about two years (it can take blueberry plants twice as long). If you're ready to try growing your own honeyberries in your garden, you can buy plants from the same Minnesota-based nursery as Blue Fruit Farm, at HoneyberryUSA.
Due to their delicate nature, honeyberries may not be at your local supermarket if you're in a warmer state since they won't transport well. So if you happen to be in the Midwest or cooler areas of the country (think Washington or Connecticut), be sure to look out for these healthy fruits to give them a try.