Botanical: Vaccinium myrtillus
Family: Ericaceae (blueberry)
Other common names: Whortleberry, European Blueberry, Myrtle Blueberry, Blueberry,* Huckleberry,* Black Whortle, Burren Myrtle, Whinberry, Dyeberry, Wineberry, Fraughan (Irish),
Black Hearts, Grouseberry
Improve your vision! During World War II, legend tells us that some RAF pilots enjoyed Bilberry preserves on their bread and then noted that they were more successful in hitting their targets. Later research discovered that Bilberry does, in fact, reduce eye irritation, nearsightedness and night-blindness, and it also extends range and clarity of vision. Pregnant women find the herb to be beneficial, as it fortifies veins (including varicose veins) and capillaries and combats fatigue.
The information presented herein by Herbal Extracts Plus is intended for educational purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent disease. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.
Bilberry is a shrubby perennial plant that is native to the northern parts of Europe, Asia and North America and may be found in damp, acidic soils throughout the temperate and subarctic regions of the world. The angular, green, branched stem grows from a creeping rootstock to a height of one to two feet, and the leaves are alternate, weakly serrate, dark green and shiny on top and approximately one inch long. The reddish pink or red and white, solitary, auxiliary flowers have a pitcher shaped corolla and appear in May and June. The fruit is usually blue-black; it may be red in some cases, and the berry is five-seeded. Bilberry is similar in appearance and closely related to the American Blueberry* and Huckleberry* but has a distinct anthocyanin profile and contains higher quantities of the constituents useful for improved eye health and better circulation. 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. Another way to distinguish them is that while Blueberry fruit meat is light green, Bilberry is red or purple. Bilberries are rarely cultivated but fruits are sometimes collected from wild plants growing on publicly accessible lands, notably in Scandinavian countries, Scotland, Ireland, England and Poland. Its name is derived from the Danish word, bollebar, meaning "dark berry," and its botanical genus,vaccinium, is derived from an ancient Greek word that comes from prehistoric Mediterranean languages, referring to berry-producing shrubs. In Ireland, Bilberry is known as fraughan (fraochán in Irish) and is traditionally gathered on Fraughan Sunday or the first traditional harvest festival of the year, Lughnassadh, as celebrated by all the Celtic 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. In Elizabethan times, English herbalists prescribed "Whortleberry" for stomach complaints and diarrhea. American herbalists later combined gin with whortleberries to make a diuretic. Bilberries are very soft, juicy and easily perishable, making them difficult to transport; thus, fresh Bilberries are usually available only in gourmet stores at very high prices (up to 25 euros per pound in Europe in 2009), and extracts are relatively expensive. They are delicious in liqueurs, preserves, deserts and juices, but their therapeutic use is invaluable in herbal medicine. Rich in lutein, zeaxanthin, beta-carotene, tannins, bioflavonoids (astragalin, hyperoside, isoquercitrin, quercetin, rutin), vanillin, geraniol, pectin, calcium, inositol, magnesium, zinc, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, salicylic acid, selenium, silicon, sulfur, B-vitamins, vitamin C, glycosides, anthocyanosides, anthocyanins, anthocyanidin, beta-sitosterol, P-coumaric acids, protein, epicatechin, catechin, fruit acids and glucoquinone (and more), Bilberry has long been a well-known folk remedy for poor vision. Modern European medical journals are filled with studies confirming Bilberry's positive effect on vision. The anthocyanins in Bilberry contribute to most of its pharmacological activities. Anthocyanin has anti-inflammatory, vasoprotective and antioxidant effects.
Bilberry is said to help preserve eyesight and inhibit eye damage. Derived from the fruit of the tree, several human studies suggest that Bilberry anthocyanosides thwartt diabetic retinopathy and improve visual acuity and retinal function. It is particularly useful for people who suffer from eyestrain or poor night vision and is helpful for nearsightedness (myopia). The fruit is beneficial in strengthening the red blood cells and capillaries around the eyes and thereby increases circulation of blood and nutrients to the many blood vessels in the eyes. Bilberry anthocyanins regenerate rhodopsin and are indicated in treatment of poor night vision, macular degeneration, glaucoma and cataracts.
In 2010, Chinese scientists reported in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry that doses of a Bilberry extract increased antioxidant activity of the blood, which was accompanied by improvements in blood levels of vitamin C and antioxidant enzymes and helped improve symptoms of inflammation in the eye.
Because Bilberry helps to fortify capillaries and strengthen veins, it can also help to improve blood circulation by increasing the ability of fluids and nourishment to pass freely and is therefore also valuable to people, particularly the elderly, who suffer from poor circulation to the hands and feet.
Research (2009) from France’s Institut National de la Research Agronomique suggested that Bilberries may prevent artery hardening and support cardiac health. The study found that fermented extracts from Bilberry may generate even more health-promoting properties than the anthocyanin-rich standardized extract. After sixteen weeks of study, the fermented Bilberry extract produced significant inhibition of the development of plaques associated with atherosclerosis, and suggested that the extract produces new bioactive compounds with heart health effects, including reduced plaque in the arteries and anti-atherogenic activity. Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Bilberry has been used to regulate bowel action via astringency and antiseptic actions: It is a mild but strong astringent that has been effective in treating dysentery and diarrhea. It is an antiseptic that helps treat urinary tract and bladder infections and is said to curb intestinal putrefaction (which produces flatulence and gas), helping to reduce stomach cramps.
Italian scientists have discovered that Bilberries contain significant, curative anti-ulcer activity, which they attributed to the fruit's anthocyanoside (a flavonoid) content. It has also been used in cases of gastroenteritis, which occurs in connection with such disorders as Crohn's disease and infection by such pathogens as Helicobacter pylori, the bacterium related to peptic ulcer.
Bilberry has also been used as a mild diuretic and is said to relieve bloating and rid the body of excess water retention and edema (dropsy), the accumulation of fluid in tissues or a body cavity, which can cause swelling.
Herbalists say that Bilberry tea makes a fine mouthwash or gargle and also recommend its use to relieve inflamed gums and tongue; it is held in the mouth for a while and then swallowed. The antiseptic and astringent qualities may also help in cases of periodontitis, sore throat, laryngitis; and astringency is said to be beneficial for hemorrhoids and internal bleeding.
Bilberry is most effective when taken over a period of time as a dietary supplement that helps to strengthen the immune system.
In reports released from Memorial Sloan Kettering hospital, Bilberry's anthocyanin has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects (supporting the 2010 Chinese studies relating to eye health above). In vitro studies suggest that Bilberry may act against malignant diseases. The fruit has demonstrated free radical scavenging and inhibition of cAMP phosphodiesterase actions, and extract of Bilberry may inhibit human leukemia cells and human colon carcinoma cell growth through the induction of apoptosis. The studies included Bilberry extracts standardized to 25% anthocyanosides (as available below).
In 2010, scientists from Japan's Chubu University claimed (in animal models) that consumption of Bilberry may reduce the levels of glucose in the blood and increase insulin sensitivity, thus, potentially providing a means of reducing the risk of diabetes. The anti-diabetic effects of the berries appeared linked to the anthocyanin content, which may affect the action of various proteins involved in glucose transport and fat metabolism. It is hoped that further human studies will support the use of Bilberry as a tool for the prevention and treatment of Type-2 diabetes. In 2013, human studies were, in fact, conducted at the University of Eastern Finland and demonstrated that Bilberries (and several other berries) could lower insulin response after eating foods high in carbohydrates, and a lower insulin response prevents hypoglycemia and inappropriate increases of free fatty acids; therefore, regular consumption may help in the prevention of Type-2 diabetes
and can be recommended especially for individuals at high risk of this disease.
Currently, there are no warnings or contraindications with the use of Bilberry fruit. However, coumarins in Bilberry may increase bloodthinning activity and inhibit platelet activity.