Bilberry, a relative of blueberry, belongs to the heath family. A small shrub with sweet black berries, it grows in heaths and woods of northern Europe, as well as western Asia, and the Rocky Mountains of western North America. The berries and leaves are used.
An ancient food plant of Europe, bilberry emerged as a medicinal herb in the sixteenth century. The leaves were used for their astringent, tonic, antiinflammatory, and antiseptic qualities.
The dried berry tea was used as an astringent for diarrhea and dysentery, a diuretic, and a cooling nutritive tonic; also to prevent scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) and to stop bleeding. It is also used as an astringent and disinfectant for mouth inflammations.
During the Second World War, pilots in the British Royal Air Force reported improved night vision after eating bilberry jam. In the 1960s, these reports led Italian and French scientists to research the berries for their effects on vision problems.
In Europe, herbal preparations of bilberry fruit are used to enhance poor microcirculation, thus improving eye conditions such as night blindness and diabetic retinopathy. Pigments called anthocyanosides help regenerate a pigment in the retina which is essential for the eye to adapt to light.
Fragility of capillaries is a common condition in the elderly which can result in a tendency to bruise easily. Weak capillaries are associated with poor blood circulation to connective tissues and with inflammatory conditions such as arthritis. Anthocyanosides in bilberry strengthen capillaries by protecting them from free radical damage. They also stimulate the formation of healthy connective tissue and aid in the formation of new capillaries. Bilberry may reduce blood platelet stickiness (platelet aggregation), a risk factor associated with atherosclerosis. Bilberry is recommended for managing varicose veins and hemorrhoids, and rebuilding healthy connective tissue, but unfortunately most studies have involved animals or only a small number of humans. In Germany, the dried berries are sold for the traditional use of treating mild diarrhea and minor inflammations of the mucous membranes of the throat and mouth. More studies are needed.
Tablets and capsules of the dried fruits are available, as well as products standardized to 25 percent anthocyanosides. Standardized products may be expected to produce more predictable results.
No side effects, contraindications, or interactions with other drugs have been reported.
Mouth and throat inflammation
Tendency to bruising
Reported to improve microcirculation