Plant Description: Bilberry Vaccinium myrtillus L is a perennial shrub that grows to about 16 inches in height. It has sharp edged, green branches and black wrinkled berries, which are ripe for picking in late summer. Bilberry is a relative of blueberry, cranberry, and huckleberry, and its fruit looks and tastes much like the American blueberry. Grows in lose, sandy soil, Part Shade to Morning full sun hardy to zone 5
Bilberry has been used for centuries, both medicinally and as a food in jams and pies. It is related to the blueberry and is native to Northern Europe. Bilberry fruit contains chemicals known as anthocyanosides, plant pigments that have excellent antioxidant properties. They scavenge damaging particles in the body known as free radicals, helping prevent or reverse damage to cells. Antioxidants have been shown to help prevent a number of long term illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, and an eye disorder called macular degeneration. Bilberry also contains vitamin C, which is another antioxidant.
What's It Made Of?: The key compounds in bilberry fruit are called anthocyanosides. These compounds help build strong blood vessels and improve circulation to all areas of the body. They also prevent blood platelets from clumping together (helping to reduce the risk of blood clots), and they have antioxidant properties (preventing or reducing damage to cells from free radicals). Anthocyanidins boost the production of rhodopsin, a pigment that improves night vision and helps the eye adapt to light changes.
Diabetes Bilberry leaves have traditionally been used to control blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Research shows that all berries help reduce the body's glucose response after eating a high sugar meal. Animal studies suggest bilberry may be effective for managing blood sugar levels. However, more research is needed. At this time, bilberry is not recommended to help manage diabetes.
Diarrhea and wounds Bilberry has been used in European medicine for nearly a thousand years, primarily to treat diarrhea. The fruit contains tannins, substances that act as both an anti-inflammatory and an astringent (constricting and tightening tissues). Bilberry is believed to help people with diarrhea by reducing intestinal inflammation. No studies, however, have examined bilberry's use for diarrhea.
Vision Anthocyanosides found in bilberry fruits may also be useful for people with vision problems. During World War II, British fighter pilots reported improved nighttime vision after eating bilberry jam. Studies have shown mixed results, however. Bilberry has also been suggested as a treatment for retinopathy (damage to the retina) because anthocyanosides appear to help protect the retina. Bilberry has also been suggested as treatment to prevent cataracts. However, studies are lacking in both areas.