We were wondering what this was too when someone bought a bottle of Bilberry Raw Herb from our store. Even though they look like blueberries, they are believed to have some unique benefits:
A search revealed that bilberry is reported to improve eyesight and decrease inflammation. Surprised that none of us had heard of Bilberry before, we decided to look into it. Turns out it is also known as Huckleberry (who hasn't heard of Huck Finn). What we didn't know was that the dried, ripe fruit of huckleberries, or bilberries, and their leaves are used to make medicine.
There is some evidence that bilberry may help retinal disorders, and in fact, during World War II, British pilots in the Royal Air Force ate bilberry jam to improve their night vision.
Bilberry is also used by some people to treat hardening of the arteries (heart), decreased blood flow in the veins, and chest pain. Chemicals called tannins within the berries are also sometimes used to treat chronic fatigue syndrome, gout, kidney disease, urinary tract infections, diabetes, osteoarthritis and other issues.
Check with your physician before supplementing your diet with a new food like bilberry, especially if you take anticoagulant and anti-platelet drugs, or during special phases like lactation and pregnancy. We are not able to provide medical advice.
Bilberries are also said to lower blood sugar, so diabetics taking medication for blood sugar are cautioned because it can cause hypoglycemia. If you take blood-thinning medication, you'll also want to be aware that bilberry can prolong bleeding by slowing coagulation.
Where They're Found
Bilberries are difficult to grow and hence are rarely cultivated. They prefer acidic, low-nutrient soils. If you live in the USA, in places such as Washington state, you can find them thriving by the bushel in the forests and they make a sweet treat to enjoy while hiking. They are native to the northwestern United States and Canada, growing from Wyoming west to Alaska, Washington, and Oregon. They also grow in Idaho and Montana. The require elevations of from 2,000 to 11,000 feet (preferring mountain conditions).
They're common in other countries at those same high latitudes; in Scandinavia, for example, the berries are collected in the forest and made into jams and bilberry pie (Finnish: mustikkapiirakka, Swedish blåbärspaj).
In France and Italy they're used as a base for liquors, and to flavor sorbets and other deserts. Bilberries were also collected at Lughnasadh in August, the first traditional harvest festival of the year, as celebrated by Gaelic 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.
If you don't live in the northern climes, then bilberry is readily available as the raw herb supplement in capsule form, and also as tinctures of the plant extract.
What Does It Taste Like?
They look and taste a lot like the American blueberry. If you're looking for them in the woods, keep your eyes peeled for a short shrub about 16 inches in height. During the late summer and early fall they come into full season and you can simply break off a branch from the shrub and eat several handfuls of the berries directly off the stick as you walk along. It has sharp-edged, green branches (more reddish or burgundy in later season), and small berries.
The berries will be sweet when they are ripe, but at other times can be somewhat astringent or tart, not unlike cherries.
In The Kitchen
Bilberry tea is pretty popular using fresh or dried berries steeped in hot water. It is also available as convenient tea bags.
What's In A Name?
Apparently, a lot. There is a lot of confusion about the difference between blueberry, huckleberry, and the bilberry.
Do you have a bilberry fact that we left out? Leave a reply on the blog! If you have a suggestion for a future article, let us know. We personally wish you good health!