Berries have been valuable as a food source for humans since before the start of agriculture, and remain among the primary food sources of other primates. They were a seasonal staple for early hunter-gatherers for thousands of years, and wild berry gathering remains a popular activity in Europe and North America today. In time, humans learned to store berries so that they could be used in the winter. They may be made into fruit preserves, and among Native Americans, mixed with meat and fats as pemmican.
Berries also began to be cultivated in Europe and other countries. Some species of blackberries and raspberries of the genus Rubus have been cultivated since the 17th century, while smooth-skinned blueberries and cranberries of the genus Vaccinium have been cultivated in the United States for over a century. In Japan, between the 10th and 18th centuries, the term “ichibigo” (which later became “ichigo”) referred to many berry crops. The most widely cultivated berry of modern times, however, is the strawberry, which is produced globally at twice the amount of all other berry crops combined.
The strawberry was mentioned by ancient Romans, who thought it had medicinal properties, but it was then not a staple of agriculture. Woodland strawberries began to be grown in French gardens in the 14th century. The musky-flavored strawberry (F. moschata) began to be grown in European gardens in the late 16th century. Later, the Virginia strawberry was grown in Europe and the United States.[when?] The most commonly consumed strawberry, the garden strawberry (F. ananassa), is an accidental hybrid of the Virginia strawberry and a Chilean variety Fragaria chiloensis. It was first noted by a French gardener around the mid 18th century that, when F. moschata and F. virginiana were planted in between rows of F. chiloensis, the Chilean strawberry would bear abundant and unusually large fruits. Soon after, Antoine Nicolas Duchesne began to study the breeding of strawberries and made several discoveries crucial to the science of plant breeding, such as the sexual reproduction of strawberry. Later, in the early 1800s, English breeders of strawberry made varieties of F. ananassa which were important in strawberry breeding in Europe, and hundreds of cultivars have since been produced through the breeding of strawberries.