What is Bilberry?
The bilberry is one of a number of a number of low growing shrubs belonging to the genus Vaccinium. These shrubs bear edible, dark blue to black colored berries with a number of beneficial health properties. The bilberry is variously known as whortleberry, European blueberry, blaeberry and huckleberry.
The bilberry, known scientifically as Vaccinium myrtillus L, is native to Europe and in many European languages, the name of the bilberry translates to ‘blueberry’ which may explain some of the confusion between bilberries and blueberries which belong to the same genus. Like its better known cousin, the blueberry which is famed for its health giving properties the bilberry can also boast a variety of health uses.
Some Facts About Bilberry
- Bilberry is related to a number of other berries including cranberry, huckleberry and blueberry.
- The fruit is also known as whortleberry, blaeberry and European blueberry.
- Bilberry tastes and looks a lot like the true blueberry but is slightly smaller.
- Bilberry grows in meadows, heaths and coniferous forests and thrives best in a moderate shade.
- The fruit is small ranging from a diameter of 5 to 9 millimeters. They are a very dark blue to black in color and contain a number of seeds.
- The berries are usually ripe enough to be picked in the late summer months.
- Bilberry has a very high anthocyanin content. In fact its anthocyanin levels are considerably higher than many other popular berries including elderberry, strawberry, raspberry and cranberry.
- Because of its high anthocyanin content, bilberry has an impressive variety of potential health benefits.
- Bilberry is available fresh or in supplementary form.
What is Bilberry Used For?
Bilberry is commonly used as an ingredient in jellies, jams and sweet pies. However, it has also been used for many years as a medicinal aid.
Historically, the bilberry fruit has been used to treat gastric upset, diarrhea and scurvy among many other complaints. These days it is still a popular folk remedy for eye conditions, diarrhea, varicose veins and poor circulation.
You can eat the fruit just like you would eat any other edible berry or use it as an ingredient in you jams and pies. As well as the fruit, the bilberry leaves can be used for a variety of health problems including diabetes. The leaves can be used to make tea or medicinal extracts.
Nutrition and Composition
Like its cousin the blueberry which is famed for its high levels of antioxidants, the bilberry is also high in antioxidant content. The fruit contains natural chemicals called anthocyanosides which are pigments found in certain plants with extremely potent antioxidant properties. It is essential that we get plenty of antioxidants in our system as they scavenge our body for harmful free radicals and help protect cells from damage.
These very powerful anthocyanins are the key compounds responsible for the many health benefits of the bilberry and other types of berry. Bilberry is probably best known for its impact on vision but research has also found that the fruit may lower inflammation, reduce blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol and reduce oxidative stress. As a result, bilberry may have an important role to play in a number of illnesses including inflammatory conditions, diabetes, heart disease, dementia and cancer.
Bilberry also contains a number of other phenolic compounds. These include quercetin, catechins, tannins, phenolic acid and ellagitannins. These compounds are also natural antioxidant compounds and iron chelators meaning they may help to remove heavy metals from the body.
As well as its antioxidants, bilberries contain a variety of other vitamins and minerals. They contain Vitamin A and C as well as thiamine (B1) and riboflavin (B2). They also contain smaller amounts of vitamin E and vitamin K. When it comes to minerals, the bilberry can provide you with copper, manganese, zinc, iron and chromium.
The Health Benefits of the Bilberry
While bilberry contains certain healthy minerals, is the powerful antioxidant value of the fruit which gives it most of its health applications. Some of the most significant health benefits of the fruit include the following:
Because of the antioxidant anthocyanosides mentioned earlier, bilberry has a variety of medicinal uses. One of the most significant effects of the powerful antioxidants is on the vision. Bilberry is known to improve a person’s night vision and eyesight in low light conditions. It also improves capillary strength and decreases vascular permeability.
According to reports, allied fighter pilots ate bilberry jam and experienced improved vision during night time flights.
Bilberry may also have applications when it comes to treating retinopathy or retinal damage. It has also demonstrated protective properties against various other eye conditions including macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma.
However, despite, its reputation for improving vision, there is precious little in the way of supporting scientific evidence and we are largely relying on anecdotal evidence.
Bilberry extract is widely used in Europe as a natural remedy for chronic venous insufficiency, a condition caused by poor circulation.
The condition occurs when the valves in the leg veins which transport blood to the heart get damaged. Research suggests that supplementing with bilberry extract may help treat this condition. There has also been research suggesting that anthocyanosides extracted from the fruit can help treat the symptoms of chronic venous insufficiency. According to the research, it helps improve the pain, bruising, burning and swelling linked to the condition.
Those anthocyanosides that we have already talked about at length may have a variety of other medicinal uses including protection for your heart. These natural antioxidants might help to strengthen the blood vessels and prevent oxidation of the bad type of cholesterol or LDL.
High cholesterol levels increase the risk of heart disease such as atherosclerosis which can lead to stroke or heart attack.
One study published in 2013 found that bilberry supplementation helped to reduce both LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol levels in the blood. When compared with black currants, the study found that the fruit’s anthocyanoside content was 4 times greater. This makes them an excellent choice for various health conditions including cholesterol management. (1)
Bilberry leaves have traditionally been used to help control the blood sugar level in people suffering from diabetes. Some good quality research seems to indicate that most types of berry can help reduce the glucose response in the body after eating high sugar meals.
Studies also suggest that bilberry might be effective in regulating blood sugar. According to some proponents and the bilberry is especially effective for diabetics when the fruit is combined with some oatmeal. (2) Neither bilberry not bilberry extract is recognized as a treatment for diabetes but anecdotal reports from diabetics are positive.
In various parts of Europe, bilberry has traditionally been used to help treat diarrhea. The fruit itself contains tannins which are substances that have both astringent and anti-inflammatory properties. Because of their tanning content, bilberries can help tighten and constrict the intestinal tissues. By reducing inflammation in the intestines, the bilberry fruit may help relieve and clear up bouts of diarrhea.
The search for a natural treatment for cancer has been in full swing for decades and one of the things that has been put to the test are the anthocyanins found in bilberry.
In vitro studies have demonstrated that these anthocyanins may have cancer-preventive qualities as well as cancer suppressive properties. This is due to the powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of the extract.
In one study, a commercial bilberry extract, rich in anthocyanins was demonstrated to inhibit the development and growth of cancerous cells of the colon. Researchers observed that bilberry extract had an anti-inflammatory effect on macrophages. Since inflammation is one of the major risk factors in cancer, bilberry extract may well have future applications in its prevention. (3)
There is some evidence that fruit juice and vegetable juices rich in certain phenolic compounds may help to reduce the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease. According to some studies, the risk of Alzheimer’s was greatly reduced when mice were treated with quercetin or myricetin extracts which are found in bilberry. (4) Researchers have also found that behavioral abnormality may be alleviated with the extract.
Bilberry is full of antioxidants thanks to its anthocyanin content as well as the other flavonoids and vitamin C the fruit contains. Foods rich in antioxidants can benefit the skin by neutalizing the damage done by environmental free radicals. By getting plenty of antioxidants into your system, you can help retain your youthful looks for longer and help combat many of the signs of premature aging including wrinkles.
Bilberry can be eaten like any other edible berry or used as an ingredient to make tasty jams and pies. Another way to enjoy all of the health benefits of the fruit is to make to drink it in the form of a tea.
To make your bilberry tea, you need 2 or 3 teaspoons of bilberry and a cup of water.
- First of all, bring the water to the boil.
- Add your bilberry to the water.
- Allow the tea to steep for at least 10 minutes or longer to get the full value from your fruit.
- Add honey to taste if you prefer it sweet.
- Drink up and enjoy.
Bilberry is also available in supplementary extract form.
When buying your extract, look for an extract that contains at least 25% anthocyanidin. There are many unscrupulous manufacturers that may use misleading marketing tactics. Make sure that you are getting the genuine article, read all of the ingredients on the label and follow dosage instructions carefully.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is bilberry supplement good for?
Bilberry supplements as well as the fresh fruit may confer a wide variety of health benefits thanks mainly to their anthocyanin content. Anthocyanins are antioxidants that may help fight a variety of conditions. Bilberry is best known for its positive impact on vision and macular degeneration. The fruit may also benefit the heart by reducing cholesterol, help prevent diabetes and reduce inflammation. bilberry may also have a role to play in cancer prevention and the treatment of dementia.
Are bilberries the same as blueberries?
The bilberry is often confused with the blueberry because of the similarity of their appearance. In many parts of the world, the bilberries are actually referred to as blueberries. However, the bilberry is native to the Northern part of Europe while blueberries are a native of the USA. Both berries are excellent for your health and both are full of antioxidants, healthy minerals and vitamins,.
Is bilberry good for skin?
Bilberries contain chemical compounds called anthocyanosides. These are plant pigments which have outstanding antioxidant properties. Antioxidants can help neutralize or even reverse the damage caused to the cells by free radicals. They can help slow down many of the signs of aging such as wrinkles and help you look younger for longer. Bilberries also contain various other antioxidants like quercetin and vitamin C.
What are the health benefits of lutein?
Lutein which is one of the anthocyanins found in bilberry can help benefit the eyes in various ways. there is some evidence that lutein found in food can help prevent cataracts and protect against macular degeneration.
- Both the fruit and the extract are generally regarded as safe with no known serious side effects.
- The anthocyanosides found in bilberry can prevent blood clotting which might increase bleeding risk especially if you are taking a blood-thinning medication.
- If you are concerned, speak with a doctor before taking bilberry extract. This especially applies to pregnant women and nursing mothers or people on blood-thinners.