is any of several Eurasian species of low-growing shrubs in the genus Vaccinium, bearing edible, nearly black berries. Bilberries are distinct from blueberries but closely related to them.
Though you may not recognize the name, you are already familiar with the Vaccinium genus of herbs. It includes numerous plants that bear small, round, dark blue or dark purple edible berries. Blueberries, huckleberries, and bilberries are three of more than 100 species of the Vaccinium genus found throughout the United States and Europe in woodlands, forests, and moorlands.
If you eat whortleberries and cream in England, you're getting a healthy dose of antioxidant-rich bilberries. Bilberries and huckleberries are popular food for hikers and forest birds and animals. The berries also make good dyes and very tasty jellies and jams, and are often used in several herbal remedies. These berries freeze quite well, so you can harvest them in the summer and store them for year-round consumption.
Vaccinium myrtillus has been used for nearly 1,000 years in traditional European medicine. Vaccinium myrtillus fruits have been used in the traditional Austrian medicine internally (directly or as tea or liqueur) for treatment of disorders of the gastrointestinal tract and diabetes. Herbal supplements of V. myrtillus (bilberry) on the market are used for circulatory problems, as vision aids, and to treat diarrhea and other conditions.
In cooking, the bilberry fruit is commonly used for the same purposes as the American blueberry: pies, cakes, jams, muffins, cookies, sauces, syrups, juices, candies and so on..Confusion between bilberries and American blueberries:
Bilberries and American blueberries are nearly identical, and used for the same purposes.
Since many people refer to "blueberries", no matter if they mean the bilberry (European blueberry) Vaccinium myrtillus or the American blueberries, there is a lot of confusion about the two closely similar fruits. One can distinguish bilberries from their American counterpart by the following differences:
Bilberries have dark red, strongly fragrant flesh and red juice
that turns blue in basic environments: blueberries have white or translucent, mildly fragrant flesh.
Bilberries grow on low bushes
with solitary fruits, and are found wild in heathland in the Northern Hemisphere; blueberries grow on large bushes with the fruit in bunches.
Bilberries are usually harvested from wild plants
, while blueberries are usually cultivated and are widely available commercially.
Cultivated blueberries often come from hybrid cultivars, developed about 100 years ago by agricultural specialists, most prominently by Elizabeth Coleman White, to meet growing consumer demand; since they are bigger, the bushes grow taller, and are easier to harvest.
Bilberry fruit will stain hands
, teeth and tongue deep blue or purple while eating; it was used as a dye for food and clothes: blueberries have flesh of a less intense colour, thus less staining.
when cooked as a dessert, bilberries have a much stronger, more tart flavour and a rougher texture
than blueberries.Adding to the confusion is the fact there are also wild American blueberry varieties, sold in stores mainly in the USA and Canada. These are uncommon outside of Northern America. Even more confusion is due to the huckleberry name, which originates from English dialectal names 'hurtleberry' and 'whortleberry' for the bilberry.
Uses of Bilberry:
Both the leaves and the ripe fruit of the bilberry and related berry species have long been a folk remedy for treating diabetes. Traditionally, people used the leaves to control blood sugar. While the leaves can lower blood sugar, they do so by impairing a normal process in the liver. For this reason, use of the leaves is not recommended for long-term treatment.
The berry, on the other hand, is recommended for people with diabetes. The berries do not lower blood sugar, but their constituents may help improve the strength and integrity of blood vessels and reduce damage to these vessels associated with diabetes and other diseases, such as atherosclerosis (calcium and fat deposits in arteries). The berries contain flavonoids, compounds found in the pigment of many plants. The blue-purple pigments typical of this family are due to the flavonoid anthocyanin.
With their potent antioxidant activity anthocyanins protect body tissues, particularly blood vessels, from oxidizing agents circulating in the blood. In fact, bilberries contain the highest antioxidant level. In the same way that pipes rust as a result of an attack by chemicals, various chemicals in our environment pollutants, smoke, and chemicals in food can bind to and oxidize blood vessels. Two common complications of diabetes, diabetic eye disease (retinopathy) and kidney disease (nephropathy), often begin when the tiny capillaries of these organs are injured by the presence of excessive sugar. Antioxidants allow these harmful oxidizing agents to bind to them instead of to body cells, preventing the agents from causing permanent damage to the lining of blood vessels.
Bilberry extracts also may reduce the tingling sensations in the extremities associated with diabetes. Several studies have shown that bilberry extracts stimulate blood vessels to release a substance that helps dilate (expand) veins and arteries. Bilberries help keep platelets from clumping together, which, in turn, thins the blood, prevents clotting, and improves circulation.
Bilberry preparations seem particularly useful in treating eye conditions, so in addition to diabetic retinopathy, they also are used to treat cataracts, night blindness, and degeneration of the macula, the spot in the back of the eye that enables sharp focusing.
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