Bilberry fruitImage via Wikipedia

Botanical Name :Vaccinium myrtillus
Family: Ericaceae
Genus: Vaccinium
Species: V. myrtillus
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Ericales

Synonyms:-–Whortleberry. Black Whortles. Whinberry. Trackleberry. Huckleberry. Hurts. Bleaberry. Hurtleberry. Airelle. Vaccinium Frondosum. Blueberries.

Other names: Vaccinium myrtillus, European blueberry, huckleberry, whortleberry, burren myrtle

Parts Used:—The ripe fruit. The leaves.

–Europe, including Britain, Siberia and Barbary.

Bilberry is a name given to several species of low-growing shrubs in the genus Vaccinium (family Ericaceae) that bear tasty fruits. The species most often referred to is Vaccinium myrtillus L., also known as blaeberry, whortleberry, whinberry (or winberry), myrtle blueberry, fraughan, and probably other names regionally. They were called black-hearts in 19th century southern England, according to Thomas Hardy‘s 1878 novel, The Return of the Native, (pg. 311, Oxford World’s Classics edition).
Bilberry fruitThe word bilberry is also sometimes used in the common names of other species of the genus, including 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), and Vaccinium ovalifolium (oval-leafed blueberry, oval-leaved bilberry, mountain blueberry, high-bush blueberry).

Bilberries are found in damp, acidic 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. The easiest way to distinguish the bilberry is that it produces single or pairs of berries on the bush instead of clusters like the blueberry. Bilberry is used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species – see list of Lepidoptera which feed on Vaccinium.

Bilberries are rarely cultivated but fruits are sometimes collected from wild plants growing on publicly accessible lands, notably in Fennoscandia, Scotland, Ireland and Poland. Notice that in Fennoscandia, it is an everyman’s right to collect bilberries, irrespective of land ownership. In Ireland the fruit is known as fraughan in English, from the Irish fraochán, and is traditionally gathered on the last Sunday in July, known as Fraughan Sunday.

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Confusion between bilberries and American blueberries:
Since many people refer to “blueberries”, no matter if they mean the bilberry (European blueberry) Vaccinium myrtillus or the American blueberries, there is a lot of confusion about the two closely similar fruits. One can distinguish bilberries from their American counterpart by the following differences:
*bilberries have dark red, strongly fragrant flesh and red juice that turns blue in basic environments: blueberries have white or translucent, mildly fragrant flesh

*bilberries grow on low bushes with solitary fruits, and are found wild in heathland in the Northern Hemisphere; blueberries grow on large bushes with the fruit in bunches
bilberries are wild plants while blueberries are cultivated and widely available commercially

*cultivated blueberries often come from hybrid cultivars, developed about 100 years ago by agricultural specialists, most prominently by Elizabeth Coleman White, to meet growing consumer demand; since they are bigger, the bushes grow taller, and are easier to harvest

*bilberry fruit will stain hands, teeth and tongue deep blue or purple while eating; it was used as a dye for food and clothes: blueberries have flesh of a less intense colour, thus less staining

*when cooked as a dessert, bilberries have a much stronger, more tart flavour and a rougher texture than blueberries

Adding to the confusion is the fact there are also wild American blueberry varieties, sold in stores mainly in the USA and Canada. These are uncommon outside of Northern America. Even more confusion is due to the huckleberry name, which originates from English dialectal names ‘hurtleberry’ and ‘whortleberry’ for the bilberry.

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

Constituents:—Quinic acid is found in the leaves, and a little tannin. Triturated with water they yield a liquid which, filtered and assayed with sulphate of iron, becomes a beautiful green, first of all transparent, then giving a green precipitate. The fruits contain sugar, etc.

Mrdicinal Uses:—The leaves can be used in the same way as those of UvaUrsi. The fruits are astringent, and are especially valuable in diarrhoea and dysentery, in the form of syrup. The ancients used them largely, and Dioscorides spoke highly of them. They are also used for discharges, and as antigalactagogues. A decoction of the leaves or bark of the root may be used as a local application to ulcers, and in ulceration of the mouth and throat.

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.

Bilberry is often said to improve night vision, and the story is told of RAF pilots in World War II using bilberry for that purpose. A recent study by the U.S. Navy found no effect, however, and the origins of the RAF story are unclear; it does not appear to be well known in the RAF itself.. Studies have shown that bilberry can reduce or reverse effects of degenerative eye disorders such as macular degeneration. The overall therapeutic use of bilberry is still clinically unproven.

Bilberry is primarily used for eye conditions and to strengthen blood vessels. During World War II, British Royal Air Force pilots reportedly found that eating bilberry jam just before a mission improved their night vision which prompted researchers to investigate bilberry’s properties.

Bilberry is also used for glaucoma, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and cataracts.

The anthocyanins in bilberry may strengthen the walls of blood vessels, reduce inflammation and stabilize tissues containing collagen, such as cartilage, tendons and ligaments. Grape seed contains similar substances, however, bilberry’s anthocyanins are thought to have particular benefits for the eye.

Because bilberry is thought to strengthen blood vessels, it’s sometimes taken orally for varicose veins and hemorrhoids.
It may have other beneficial effects on capillaries due to the strong antioxidant properties of its anthocyanidin flavonoids.

The leaves have historically been used to treat gastrointestinal ailments, applied topically or made into infusions. The effects claimed have not been reproduced in the laboratory, however.

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

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The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.

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