The Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) is a European low-growing shrub that belongs to the genus Vaccinium. It bears edible, nearly black, berries that are round and flat topped. Bilberries are also known by other English names like blaeberry, whortleberry, whinberry, winberry, windberry, wimberry, myrtle blueberry, and fraughan. Contrary to popular opinion the bilberry and the blueberry are not the same. The bilberry grows natively in Europe and the British Isles in the wild on acidic soils, while the blueberry, or the huckleberry, is native to the United States.
Bilberries have been used as a healthy food for centuries. These little fruits can be eaten fresh or made into juices, pies, or jams. In France and Italy the Bilberry is a popular flavouring for sorbets and other desserts. It's also used as a base for liqueurs. In Britain, Bilberry is often used as to flavour crepes, and in Vosges and the Massif Central bilberries tart is the traditional dessert.
Bilberry leaves have a leathery feel and tapered shaped. They are bright green with short stalks and turn into rosy reds and yellowish hues during the autumn. Bilberry leaves are a rich source of antioxidants and can be used to make herbal teas to help control free radicals in the body. They can be used in a tincture or encapsulated form, but should not be used with other anticoagulant drugs.
Like other herbal supplements, the use of the bilberry goes far back in time, with its first medicinal record dating as early as the beginning of the 16 century. British and US WWII RAF pilots claimed that bilberry jam in their diet was the secret to exceptional vision during night missions.
Bilberries today are recognized as a rich source of Vitamin C and flavonoids with antioxidant activity.