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Bilberry

  • Vaccinium myrtillus L.
  • Ericaceae
  • Heath family



Common Names

herbsBlack whortleberry
herbsBlueberry (V. angustifolium)
herbsBurren myrtle
herbsDyeberry
herbsHuckleberry
herbsHurtleberry
herbsWhinberry
herbsWhortleberry
herbsWhorts
herbsWineberry


Parts Usually Used

Leaves and berries


Description of Plant(s) and Culture

Bilberry is a shrubby perennial plant; the angular, green, branched stem grows from a creeping rootstock to a height of 1 to 1 1/2 feet. The leaves are alternate, obovate or ovate, weakly serrate, dark green and shiny on top, and 1/2 to 1 inch long. The reddish pink or red and white, solitary, axillary flowers have a pitcher-shaped corolla and appear in May and June. The fruit is a blue-black (may be red in some areas), 5 seeded berry. Berries grows in twos or threes at the bases of the leaves instead of in clusters terminating the branches as in true blueberry. Seeds resemble currants. Although often called huckleberry, the bilberry is more nearly related to the cranberry.

According to Culpeper there are two sorts common in England, the black and the red berries. Both used similarly.


Where Found

Grows in the sandy areas, in acid soil, in forests, heaths, rocky barrens, bog and tundra. Northern United States. In the woods and forest meadows of Europe.


Medicinal Properties

Antiseptic, astringent, nutritive, diuretic


Biochemical Information

Fatty acids, hyroquinone, iron, loeanolic acid, neomyrtillin, sodium, tannins, and ursolic acids, quinnic acid (in the leaves) potassium, and vitamins A and C.


Legends, Myths and Stories

Bilberry is a well-known folk remedy for poor vision, especially for people who suffer from "night blindness," that is, they have difficulty seeing in the dark. In fact, bilberry jam was given to Royal Air Force pilots who flew nighttime missions during World War II. It works by accelerating the regeneration of retinol purple, commonly known as visual purple, a substance that is required for good eyesight. European medical journals are filled with studies confirming bilberry's positive effect on vision. Unfortunatley, this herb has not received the attention it deserves in the American medical community so far.

Used to make wine.

Elizabethan apothecaries made a syrup of the berries with honey, called rob, as a remedy for diarrhea.

Bilberry is a home and industrial leather dye of brown and yellow colors. Combined with other chemicals to produce violet, red, green and blue for wool, cotton and linen material.


Uses

For diabetes, (bilberry berries increases insulin production, caution should be taken by diabetics and cases of hypoglycemia), sinusitis, kidney and bladder problems, ulcers. Leaves help to lower blood sugar levels and to ease inflammation. The leaf is effective as a remedy for diarrhea. Fresh berries can produce diarrhea in some people and stop it in others. Also the fruit is used for anemia, consumptive wasting, indigestion, and colitis. Roots are used for dropsy, and urinary stones. Dried berries pass through the stomach without affecting it; beginning work in the small intestine. A strong decoction of the berries is said to be used for typhoid fever. Fresh or well-preserved berry juice makes a good gargle for sore throats or as a mouthwash for inflamed gums or for leucoplasia (an inflammation of the tongue producing white patches). Eating the fresh berries help regulate bowel action, stimulate appetite, end intestinal putrefaction which causes gas. Leaf tea used for coughs, vomiting, stomach cramps, and catarrhal enteritis. Externally, use as a wash for skin problems, sores, wounds, ulcers, and burns. Strengthens capillaries that feed eye muscles and nerves reducing and even reversing the damage caused by blood vessel deterioration. Increases night vision, reduces eye fatigue, helpful for nearsightedness (myopia). Helps preserve eyesight and prevent eye damage. At one time, it was used in the treatment of scurvy in Norway and other northern countries.


Formulas or Dosages

Gather the leaves when the plant is fully developed but before the berries are ripe.

Infusion: use 2-3 tsp. leaves with 1 cup water. Take 1 cup a day.

Decoction: use 1 tsp. dried berries with 1 cup water; let stand for 8 hours.

Extract: mix 15-40 drops in water or juice, and drink 3 times daily.

Tincture: take 15-40 drops in water, 3 or more times a day as needed.


Nutrient Content

Potassium, and vitamins A and C


How Sold

Capsules: 1 capsule, from 1-3 per day.


Warning

Interferes with iron absorption when taken internally. The leaves lower blood sugar levels, so insulin-dependent diabetics should not take them in infusions without professional supervision. Leaves can produce symptoms of poisoning if used over long periods.

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