My favorite way to eat our wild blueberries is "neat." They’re smaller than the high bush and cultivated but are so much sweeter. They’re great just as they come from the fields.

These low bush blueberries are pretty much concentrated in the northeast corner of Maine and up into Quebec. Maine now has 44,000 acres of wild blueberries but back at the beginning of the 20th century, there were 150,000 acres of blueberry barrens. Native Americans were harvesting them a thousand years ago. They kept them productive by burning the fields every four to five years.

Back when I was in high school, in the ’50s, picking was done mostly by locals, often in family groups.

We could stop alongside just about any blueberry barren and scramble through the fields to get enough for a couple of pies and not worry about "buckshot.” I wouldn’t dare step off the road a couple of feet to grab a handful these days.

When my daughter was in her mid-teens in the late '90s, she got a job on the cleaning tables and a few years later, one of my grandsons, at 14 and 15, did a couple of summers raking.

Production since then has taken a giant leap with large plants and machinery and hiring migrants. Maine is the largest producer of wild blueberries in the world.

The picking and packing have changed by leaps and bounds but the Maine blueberry is still the same as it was a thousand years ago. They haven’t been tampered with by man’s superior attitude that thinks we can improve on everything — always with an eye on making money.

But it still packs a wallop of nutrients inside. First up are the antioxidants. Super high in anti-xidants. These are the things that keep us healthy. And the small wild blueberry is two times higher in antioxidants than larger cultivated ones because they are still the way nature made them.

They are credited with aiding brain function and memory, particularly short-term memory. They’re high in flavonoids, which are powerful anti-inflammatory agents. Then there are the anthocyanins that come from the blue colored skins. Anthocyanins are powerful “medicine.” They’re high in fiber, vitamin C and contain vitamin K. They also do not lose any benefits through freezing.

But perhaps it’s most famous claim to fame is illustrated in one of its nicknames: “The Vision Fruit.” Blueberries, huckleberries and their British counterpart, the bilberry, are touted for their ability to improve and protect your vision, even, perhaps, protect from cataracts and macular degeneration. That’s a pretty lofty set of benefits.

Medical research on the mighty bilberry took off after World War II following the RAF’s use of them to improve their pilots' eyesight, most particularly their night vision. Studies did conclude these berries do, indeed, have a marked effect in improving eyesight, including night vision.

This property of the little blue berries being so beneficial for eyes would fall into the ancient theory of DOS (Doctrine of Signatures), going back to our ancient ancestors. Just how did they, quite successfully in many instances, learn what plants would be healing for what ailments? (Plants have been used for medicine for 80,000 years, that we know of, having been found in burials of Neanderthals.)

By the 16th century, it was popularly believed that plants resembled the part of the body that it was most beneficial for, hence the Doctrine of Signatures. This discipline used the shape, the color and the location of the plants in deciding what part of the body it was best for. For example, yellow plants were thought best for liver problems, red for heart ailments, etc. Some plants, like those for lung problems, actually resembled the organ designated. Walnuts were touted for the brain.

The Doctrine of Signatures is largely ignored in today’s medicine but the little blueberry’s resemblance to eyes and its proven benefits for protecting and treating the eye makes one wonder.

But we don’t have to know the truth of that or anything else to know that the little Maine wild blueberry is the most delicious of the blueberries, hands down. Time to make a good old real Maine blueberry pie the way my Grammie Tucker made them.

I entered the Union Fair blueberry pie contest one year, mainly using Grammie’s way of doing it, plus adding a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice. The judge’s note with my winning ribbon said the main reason they gave it the prize was that it was “runny, as the Maine blueberry pie is traditionally supposed to be.” No cornstarch in my berry pies.

Oh, and an honest Maine pie crust is made with lard.

Marion Tucker-Honeycutt, an award-winning columnist, a Maine native and graduate of Belfast schools, now lives in Morrill. Her columns appear in this paper every other week.