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Bilberry is any of several species of low-growing shrubs in the genus Vaccinium (family Ericaceae), bearing edible fruits. The species most often referred to is Vaccinium myrtillus L., but there are several other closely related species.


Vernacular names

Bilberries (especially Vaccinium myrtillus) are known by a very wide range of local names. As well as "bilberry", these include blaeberry, whortleberry (pronounced /ˈhɜrtəlˌbɛrɨ/) or hurts, whinberry, winberry or wimberry, myrtle blueberry and fraughan. They were called black-hearts in 19th century south-western England, according to Thomas Hardy's 1878 novel, The Return of the Native.[1]


Bilberry fruit

Bilberries include several closely related species of the Vaccinium genus, including:

  • Vaccinium myrtillus L. (bilberry)
  • Vaccinium uliginosum L. (bog bilberry, bog blueberry, bog whortleberry, bog huckleberry, northern bilberry)
  • Vaccinium caespitosum Michx. (dwarf bilberry)
  • Vaccinium deliciosum Piper (cascade bilberry)
  • Vaccinium membranaceum (mountain bilberry, black mountain huckleberry, black huckleberry, twin-leaved huckleberry)
  • Vaccinium ovalifolium (oval-leafed blueberry, oval-leaved bilberry, mountain blueberry, high-bush blueberry).

Wild and cultivated harvesting

Bilberries are found in very acidic, nutrient-poor soils throughout the temperate and subarctic regions of the world. They are closely related to North American wild and cultivated blueberries and huckleberries in the genus Vaccinium. One characteristic of bilberries is that they produce single or paired berries on the bush instead of clusters, as the blueberry does.

The fruit is smaller than that of the blueberry and similar in taste. Bilberries are darker in colour, and usually appear near black with a slight shade of blue. While the blueberry's fruit pulp is light green, the bilberry's is red or purple, heavily staining the fingers and lips of consumers eating the raw fruit. The red juice is used by European dentists to show children how to brush their teeth correctly, as any improperly brushed areas will be heavily stained.

Bilberries are extremely difficult to grow and are thus seldom cultivated. Fruits are mostly collected from wild plants growing on publicly accessible lands, notably Finland , Sweden , Norway, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, parts of England, Alpine countries, Carpathian Mountains in Ukraine, Poland and northern parts of Turkey and Russia. Note that in Fennoscandia Austria, Sweden,Finland Norway and Switzerland, it is an everyman's right to collect bilberries, irrespective of land ownership, with the exception of private gardens. Bilberries can be picked by a berry-picking rake like lingonberries, but are more susceptible to damage. Bilberries are softer and juicier than blueberries, making them difficult to transport. Because of these factors, the bilberry is only available fresh in gourmet stores, where they can cost up to 25 Euro per pound. Frozen bilberries however are available all year round in most of Europe.

In Ireland, the fruit is known as fraughan, from the Irish fraochán, and is traditionally gathered on the last Sunday in July, known as Fraughan Sunday.

Bilberries were also collected at Lughnassadh in August, the first traditional harvest festival of the year, as celebrated by Gaelic people. The crop of bilberries was said to indicate how well the rest of the crops would fare in their harvests later in the year.

The fruits can be eaten fresh or made into jams, fools, juices or pies. In France and in Italy, they are used as a base for liqueurs and are a popular flavoring for sorbets and other desserts. In Brittany, they are often used as a flavoring for crêpes, and in the Vosges and the Massif Central bilberry tart (tarte aux myrtilles) is a traditional dessert.

Bilberry is used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species - see list of Lepidoptera that feed on Vaccinium.

Possible medicinal uses

Bilberry fruit in Finland

Often associated with improvement of night vision, bilberries are mentioned in a popular story of World War II RAF pilots consuming bilberry jam to sharpen vision for night missions. However, a recent study[2] by the U.S. Navy found no such effect and origins of the RAF story cannot be found.[3]

Although the effect of bilberry on night vision is controversial, laboratory studies have provided preliminary evidence that bilberry consumption may inhibit or reverse eye disorders such as macular degeneration.[4] A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial on 50 patients suffering from senile cataract showed that a combination of bilberry extract and vitamin E administered for 4 months was able to stop lens opacity progress in 97% of the cataracts.[5]

As a deep blue fruit, bilberries contain high levels of anthocyanin pigments, which have been linked experimentally to lowered risk for several diseases, such as those of the heart and cardiovascular system, eyes and cancer.[6][7][8]

In folk medicine, bilberry leaves were used to treat gastrointestinal ailments, applied topically, or made into infusions. Bilberries are also used as a tonic to prevent some infections and skin diseases.

Wild bilberries collected in Norway.

Standardization of its food products

  • ISO 6664


  1. ^ Hardy, Thomas, The Return of the Native (pg. 311, Oxford World's Classics edition)
  2. ^ Muth ER, Laurent JM, Jasper P (April 2000). "The effect of bilberry nutritional supplementation on night visual acuity and contrast sensitivity". Alternative Medicine Review 5 (2): 164–73. PMID 10767671.  
  3. ^ [1] Bilberry Bombs, WebMD, October 2000
  4. ^ Fursova AZh, Gesarevich OG, Gonchar AM, Trofimova NA, Kolosova NG (2005). "Dietary supplementation with bilberry extract prevents macular degeneration and cataracts in senesce-accelerated OXYS rats [Dietary supplementation with bilberry extract prevents macular degeneration and cataracts in senesce-accelerated OXYS rats]" (in Russian). Advances in Gerontology 16: 76–9. PMID 16075680.  
  5. ^ Zafra-Stone S, Yasmin T, Bagchi M, Chatterjee A, Vinson JA, Bagchi D (June 2007). "Berry anthocyanins as novel antioxidants in human health and disease prevention". Molecular Nutrition & Food Research 51 (6): 675–83. doi:10.1002/mnfr.200700002. PMID 17533652.  
  6. ^ Bell DR, Gochenaur K (April 2006). "Direct vasoactive and vasoprotective properties of anthocyanin-rich extracts". Journal of Applied Physiology 100 (4): 1164–70. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00626.2005. PMID 16339348.  
  7. ^ Chung HK, Choi SM, Ahn BO, Kwak HH, Kim JH, Kim WB (2005). "Efficacy of troxerutin on streptozotocin-induced rat model in the early stage of diabetic retinopathy". Arzneimittel-Forschung 55 (10): 573–80. PMID 16294503.  
  8. ^ Roy S, Khanna S, Alessio HM, et al. (September 2002). "Anti-angiogenic property of edible berries". Free Radical Research 36 (9): 1023–31. doi:10.1080/1071576021000006662. PMID 12448828.  

See also

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
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From LoveToKnow 1911

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Simple English

File:Vaccinum myrtillus
Bilberry in flower
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Ericales
Family: Ericaceae
Genus: Vaccinium
Species: V. myrtillus
Binomial name
Vaccinium myrtillus

The bilberry is a type of shrub that grows close to the ground. It is a member of the genus Vaccinium. The bilberry is known by many names. It also called blaeberry, whortleberry, whinberry, myrtle blueberry, fraughan, and probably other names in different regions of the world. In Thomas Hardy's 1878 book, The Return of the Native, they were called black-hearts in 19th century southern England. They are related to the North American blueberries and huckleberries.

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