Bilberries are any of several primarily Eurasian species of low-growing shrubs in the genus Vaccinium (family Ericaceae), bearing edible, nearly black berries. The species most often referred to is Vaccinium myrtillus L., but there are several other closely related species.
Bilberries – which are native to Europe – are different from North American blueberries, although the species are closely related and belong to the same genus, Vaccinium. Bilberry are non-climacteric fruits with a smooth, circular outline at the end opposite the stalk, whereas blueberries retain persistent sepals there, leaving a rough, star-shaped pattern of five flaps. Bilberries grow singly or in pairs rather than in clusters, as blueberries do, and blueberries have more evergreen leaves. Bilberries are dark in color, and usually appear near black with a slight shade of purple.
Bilberries and blueberries contain diverse anthocyanins, including delphinidin and cyanidin glycosides. While blueberry fruit pulp is light green in color, bilberry is red or purple. The high anthocyanin content may cause staining of the fingers, lips, and tongue of consumers.
Bilberries include several closely related species of the genus Vaccinium, including:
Blueberries and bilberries are eaten both as dessert fruits and in processed forms. About 46% of the rabbiteye crop and 50% of the highbush crop are marketed fresh, and the remainder are processed. Nearly all commercially harvested lowbush blueberries, cranberries, and lingonberries are processed.
The first widespread use of cranberries was to make sauce as a speciality item served at Christmas and the American holiday, Thanksgiving. During the 1960s, juice products made their appearance in the USA and now dominate the market. Cranberry ‘cocktail’ is drunk alone or mixed with other juice products. Cranberries are also made into a syrup, a dried raisin-like product, and a natural red food coloring, which has been used successfully to enhance the color of cherry pie filling.
Blueberries are used primarily in pie fillings, yogurts, icecream, and prepared muffin and pancake mixes. Blueberries are sometimes added to dried products after dehydration using an explosion-puffing process. Syrups, jams, and preserves are also produced, but in limited quantities. The juice of blueberries is rarely consumed directly as it has a very strong flavor and dark color.
Lingonberries are quite tart, but quite edible when cooked and are commonly used for juice, pie fillings, and jam. Bilberries are used fresh or in juice, preserves, or wine. Fruit extracts are also used in pharmaceutical preparations for the treatment of microcirculatory diseases.
The name bilberry appears to have a Scandinavian origin, possibly from as early as 1577, being similar to the Danish word bølle for whortleberry with the addition of “berry”.The bilberry (especially Vaccinium myrtillus) is also known by a number of other names including blaeberry /ˈbleɪbɛri/ in Scotland , whortleberry /ˈhwɜːrtəlbɛri/ in southern England, and w(h)imberry or w(h)inberry in south Wales and along the Anglo-Welsh border amongst other places.
7 Amazing Benefits
Due to the anthocyanosides, bilberry is widely used to improve night vision or vision handicaps in low light, decreasing vascular permeability and capillary fragility. It was reported that during World War II, British fighter pilots had improved nighttime vision after eating bilberry jam.
Bilberry has been suggested as a treatment for retinopathy, which is damage to the retina. Bilberry has also exhibited protective effects against and macular degeneration, glaucoma and cataracts.
Helps Eliminate Circulation Problems
In Europe, health care professionals use bilberry extracts to treat circulation problems, also known as chronic venous insufficiency (CVI). Research suggests that this condition, which occurs when valves in veins in the legs that carry blood to the heart are damaged, may be improved by taking bilberry extract. Other research suggests that taking bilberry anthocyanins daily for up to six months might improve swelling, pain, bruising and burning associated with CVI.
Improve Bad Cholesterol
The amazing anthocyanosides found in bilberries may strengthen blood vessels and prevent the oxidation of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, a major risk factor for atherosclerosis that is the plaque that blocks blood vessels leading to heart attack and stroke.
A study reported that bilberry enrichment, when compared to black currants, reduced total and LDL-cholesterol levels. In fact, the total anthocyanin content was four times higher in bilberries than in black currants, possibly making it a better choice for reducing LDL cholesterol levels.
May Improve the Blood Sugar in Diabetics
Traditionally, bilberry leaves have been used to control blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Research shows that most berries help reduce the body’s glucose response after eating a high-sugar meal and studies suggest bilberry may be effective for managing blood sugar levels, particularly when combined with oatmeal, though more research is needed.
Help Prevent Cancer
In vitro work and animal tumorigenic models have demonstrated that bilberry anthocyanins have cancer-preventive qualities and suppressive activity due to antioxidants; the berries also have anti-inflammatory effects. A commercial anthocyanin-rich extract from bilberry was shown to inhibit the growth of colon cancer cells. In a DNA study, an anti-inflammatory profile was seen in macrophages treated with a bilberry extract and since inflammation is an important risk factor for cancer, bilberry may be very useful in its prevention.
Effective for Treating Diarrhea
Bilberry has been used in European medicine to treat diarrhea for many years. The fruit contains tannins, substances that act as both an anti-inflammatory and an astringent that helps with constricting and tightening tissues. By reducing intestinal inflammation, bilberry is believed to help with reducing the symptoms of diarrhea.
Lower the Risks of Alzheimer’s Disease
Evidence suggests that fruit and vegetable juices containing various phenolic compounds can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. In some cases, symptoms of Alzheimer’s was significantly decreased upon treatment with myricetin, quercetin or anthocyanin-rich extracts found in bilberry and showed that behavioral abnormalities may have been alleviated.