Herbs for Health: Benefits of Bilberry

| December/January 1996

If you grew up among the heaths, moors, and woodlands of northern Europe or are a wild-foods enthusiast in the Rocky Mountain region, you might be ­familiar with bilberries, fruits of a member of the heath family (Ericaceae) that are much like blueberries. Most Americans, however, are more likely to ­encounter them in the form of purple gelatin capsules in health-food stores.

The genus Vaccinium includes nearly 450 species that occur in cool, temperate flatlands and mountains of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Many are deciduous or evergreen shrubs with edible fruits, including blueberry, huckleberry, cranberry, whortleberry, and lingonberry.

Bilberry (V. myrtillus) is a foot-tall deciduous shrub with ovate leaves that bears globular pinkish bell-like flowers in spring. It covers vast areas of high mountains in Europe, thriving in damp, acid soils, damp woods, and sandy and rocky soils. From Europe, it ranges eastward to western Mongolia, and in North America, it is found from British Columbia southward to Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. In Europe, the sweet, plump blue-black fruits are harvested commercially from the wild in July through September.

Bilberry Through History

Bilberry fruits have been valued for centuries as a nutritious food. In England and Scotland, they are eaten with milk and used in pies, tarts, syrups, jellies, and wine. They were also esteemed by Native Americans living in the Rockies.

The first record of bilberry fruits as an herbal medicine is Hildegard of Bingen’s recommendation in the twelfth century to use them to induce menstruation. In the sixteenth century, other German herbalists were prescribing bilberries for bladder stones and liver disorders and bilberry syrups for coughs and lung ailments.

By the eighteenth century, European herbalists and physicians had added intestinal disorders, typhoid fever, gout, rheumatism, and infections of the mouth, skin, and urinary tract to the list of ailments that they believed bilberry would cure. Two hundred years later, people were drinking a tea of the dried berries as a tonic and to stop diarrhea and bleeding, promote urination, and prevent scurvy (vitamin C deficiency); it was also used as an astringent and disinfectant mouthwash for mouth inflammations.



September 12-13, 2019
Seven Springs, Pennsylvania

Fermentation Frenzy! is produced by Fermentation magazine in conjunction with the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR. This one-and-a-half day event is jam-packed with fun and informative hands-on sessions.


Subscribe today and save 58%

Subscribe to Mother Earth Living !

Mother Earth LivingWelcome to Mother Earth Living, the authority on green lifestyle and design. Each issue of Mother Earth Living features advice to create naturally healthy and nontoxic homes for yourself and your loved ones. With Mother Earth Living by your side, you’ll discover all the best and latest information you want on choosing natural remedies and practicing preventive medicine; cooking with a nutritious and whole-food focus; creating a nontoxic home; and gardening for food, wellness and enjoyment. Subscribe to Mother Earth Living today to get inspired on the art of living wisely and living well.

Save Money & a Few Trees!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You’ll save an additional $5 and get six issues of Mother Earth Living for just $19.95! (Offer valid only in the U.S.)

Or, choose Bill Me and pay just $24.95.

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter

Free Product Information Classifieds

click me