Common Names: Bilberry, European blueberry, whortleberry, huckleberry
Bilberry, a relative of blueberry, belongs to the heath family. Bilberry has been used for nearly 1,000 years in traditional European medicine. Historically, bilberry fruit was used to treat diarrhea, scurvy, and other conditions. Today, the fruit is used to treat diarrhea, menstrual cramps, eye problems, varicose veins, venous insufficiency (poor blood flow to the heart), and other circulatory problems.
A small shrub with sweet black berries, it grows in heaths and woods of northern Europe, as well as western Asia, and the Rocky Mountains of western North America.
Bilberry as an Herb for Medicinal Uses
Bilberry leaf herbal tea was used as an astringent for diarrhea and dysentery, a diuretic, and a cooling nutritive tonics; also to prevent scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) and to stop bleeding.
Bilberry is also used as an astringent and disinfectant for mouth inflammations.
During the Second World War, pilots in the British Royal Air Force reported improved night vision after eating bilberry jam. In the 1960s, these reports led Italian and French scientists to research the berries for their effects on vision problems.
In Europe, herbal preparations of bilberry fruit are used to enhance poor microcirculation, thus improving eye conditions such as night blindness and diabetic retinopathy.
Bilberry is recommended for managing varicose veins and hemorrhoids, and rebuilding healthy connective tissue, but unfortunately most studies have involved animals or only a small number of humans.
In Germany, the dried berries are sold for the traditional use of treating mild diarrhea and minor inflammations of the mucous membranes of the throat and mouth. More studies are needed.
The fruit is helpful in scurvy and urinary complaints, and when bruised with the roots and steeped in gin has diuretic properties valuable in dropsy and gravel. A tea made of the leaves is also a remedy for diabetes if taken for a prolonged period. In France, bilberries have been prescribed since 1945 for diabetic retinopathy, a major cause of blindness in diabetics.
Tablets and capsules of the dried fruits are available.
- Is an effective natural eye tonic for mature adults.
- Supports healthy circulation in extremities.
- Maintains healthy immune functioning with powerful antioxidant properties.
- Supports healthy memory functioning.
Culinary Uses of Bilberry
The fruit of the bilberry plant can be eaten or made into extracts. Similarly, the leaves of the bilberry plant can be made into extracts or used to make teas. Bilberry plants have to be at least 3 to 4 years old before they bear fruit.
Stewed with a little sugar and lemon peel in an open tart, bilberries make a very enjoyable dish.
Before the War, immense quantities of bilberries were imported annually from Holland, Germany and Scandinavia. They were used mainly by pastry cooks and restaurant keepers.
Bilberry Fact: During World War II, British RAF pilots consumed bilberry jam prior to night flying, swearing it helped improve their night vision and prevented visual fatigue. Twenty years after the pilots swore by it, scientists began studying the popular berry outside the kitchen.
Owing to its rich juice, the bilberry can be used with the least quantity of sugar in making jam. Half a pound of sugar to the pound of berries is sufficient if the preserve is to be eaten soon. The minuteness of the seeds makes them more suitable for jam than currants. Following is an "ancient" recipe for Billberry Jam. In the links below, we offer an herbal Bilberry Jam recipe, as well.
Ancient Bilberry Jam Recipe
Put 3 pounds of clean, fresh bilberry fruit in a preserving pan with 1-1/2 pound of sugar and about 1 cupful of water and bring to a boil. Boil rapidly for 40 minutes. Apple juice made from windfalls and peelings, instead of the water, will improve this jam. To make apple juice, cover the apples with water, stew down, and strain the juice through thick muslin.
Blackberries may also be added to this mixture. If the jam is to be kept long it must be bottled hot in screw-top jars, or, if tied down in the ordinary way, more sugar must be added.
No side effects, contraindications, or interactions with other drugs have been reported. However, high doses of bilberry extract are considered unsafe due to possible toxic side effects. Use bilberry as directed.
Prolonged use may be hazardous.
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