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European blueberries are small, globular fruits, typically averaging less than one centimeter in diameter, and have a round to oval shape. The skin is semi-shiny, soft, and ranges in color from dark red, blue-purple, to dark blue. Underneath the delicate, thin skin, the flesh is aqueous and dark red, encasing a few very small seeds giving the flesh a slightly grainy texture. European blueberries have a bright, sweet-tart flavor with an acidic quality.
European blueberries are available fresh in the fall and can be found frozen year-round.
European blueberries, botanically a part of the Vaccinium genus, grow on low, wiry shrubs that belong to the Ericaceae family. There are many different, closely related varieties of berries native to Europe that are generally labeled under the European blueberry name, with the most prevalent species being Vaccinium myrtillus. European blueberries are also known as Bilberries, Whortleberries, Wimberries, and Blaeberries, and though they may share the name blueberry, European blueberries are a distinct berry from the American blueberries that are commonly found in commercial markets. European blueberries are not commercially cultivated as their delicate, thin skins and short shelf-life make them unsuitable for transport. The berries are foraged from the wild and are sold at local markets for fresh and cooked applications. The berries are also known for their high nutritional content and are often made into nutritional extracts.
European blueberries contain vitamins A, C, and E, some fiber, and iron, phosphorus, antioxidants, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. The berries have also been used in traditional folk medicine in Europe for almost one thousand years and are used to reduce inflammation, fight against free radicals, and cleanse the digestive tract.
European blueberries are best suited for both raw and cooked applications, such as boiling and baking. The berries can be consumed fresh, out-of-hand, but caution should be taken as the juice can stain clothing, hands, and the tongue. European blueberries can also be tossed into green salads, sprinkled over ice cream, cooked into jams, compotes, and jellies, blended into sauces for cooked meats and crepes, or juiced into a lemonade. In addition to sauces and preserves, the berries are popularly baked into pies, muffins, tarts, cobblers, cookies, and cakes. They are also infused into liquors for their sweet-tart flavor. European blueberries pair well with balsamic, ginger, lavender, rosemary, basil, coconut, meats such as beef, pork, poultry, deer, duck, and fish, chocolate, honey, and cinnamon. The fresh berries should be used immediately for the best flavor as they have a short shelf life and will only keep for a couple of days in the refrigerator. European blueberries can also be frozen for year-round use.
In Ireland, European blueberries are often known as fraughan, and in the late summer, the Festival of Lughnasa, also known as the Celtic Harvest Festival, celebrates the beginning of the fall harvest season by picking the berries. The festival is traditionally held on the last Sunday in July, earning the name “Fraughan Sunday,” and participants spend the day harvesting the small berries for use in desserts, jams, and baked goods. The total number of berries harvested is also a prediction and symbol of how plentiful the upcoming fall harvest will be.
European blueberries are native to regions across northern and central Europe and have been growing wild since ancient times. The shrubs are commonly found near coniferous forests, woodlands, and meadows in temperate and subarctic climates and grow in acidic soil. Over time, European blueberries have slowly been introduced to regions around the world, and today, they are present in North America, Europe, Asia, New Zealand, and Australia. The berries are not commercially produced and are grown through small farms or foraged from the wild for sale at local markets.