bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus)
The Bilberry is a relative to the familiar blueberry. In fact, they look quite a bit like blueberries. Also known as whortleberries, huckleberries and whinberries, bilberries are eaten wherever they grow. The best way to tell them apart from blueberries is to note how the berries grow. Bilberries grow as single or pairs of berries instead of a cluster like a blueberry plant produces. Another clue is the inside of the berry. Blueberries interior is light green, while bilberries are red or purple inside.
Key Medicinal Uses
Internally Bilberry has been used for almost 1,000 years in traditional herbal remedies for diarrhea and scurvy. Today it is still used for diarrhea, nausea and indigestion as well as for menstrual cramps and fibrocystic breast disease. It is also used for circulatory problems like venous insufficiency, angina, atherosclerosis and thrombosis. The compounds in the herb improve capillary strength, thin the blood and stimulate vasodilation. It lowers blood pressure, reduces clotting and works as an antioxidant. It is also used for diabetes because the berries lower blood sugar. There is some suggestion that it may improve night vision, but studies have not been able to prove this assertion. It is still used sometimes for retinitis, glaucoma, cataracts and myopia, however.
Externally Bilberry can be used for eye problems and varicose veins. It can also help relieve mild inflammation of the membranes of the throat and mouth.
Other Uses Bilberry is used to make jellies, jams, preserves, wines and liqueurs as well as a good natural dye.
Berries, leaves The berries and leaves of the plant are used medicinally.
People who have diabetes and must take insulin should not use the leaves of the plant in any form. The berries however do not interact with diabetic medications, so they can be consumed without a problem. There are no side effects from the berries, but the leaves can irritate the liver. The herb is safe for eating, but medicinal doses should not be taken for long periods of time. Excessive doses may cause upset stomach, hydroquinone poisoning and increase your risk of bleeding. A large portion of fresh fruit may act as a laxative. Watch for drug interactions, especially if your medication can already cause diarrhea, lower blood sugar levels or thin blood.
Preparation and Dosage
The easiest way to add bilberries to the diet is to simply eat them. You can also make teas and tinctures from the leaves. Extract can be found that is made from the berries.
Fresh bilberry may be eaten in quantities of 55 to 115 grams per day. Dried fruit can be taken in doses of 4 to 8 grams orally with water twice a day, or it can be used to make a decoction and drank three times per day. This herbal remedies decoction can also be used as a mouthwash gargle.