Scientific Name/Common Name: Vaccinium myrtillus / Bilberry
Part(s) Used: Leaf and Berry
Constituents/Active Ingredients: Approximately 0.7% anthocyanins. The berries also contain up to 10% tannins, mostly catechol tannins. The berries also contain other flavonoids, plant acids, invert sugar, and pectins. The highest quality standardized extracts of bilberries, those used in clinical trials, contain 25% anthocyanins.
Overview: Bilberries, otherwise known as European blueberries, are rich in colourful flavonoids called anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are powerful antioxidants that have been shown to protect skin from sun damage, prevent LDL cholesterol oxidation, and prevent blood platelet stickiness. Anthocyanins bind to and protect collagen and elastin in the body, they stabilize phospholipids in cell membranes and they increase the strength of arterial walls within hours of taking them. The most notable use of bilberries in Europe is for their eyesight and vascular strengthening powers. In human clinical studies, bilberry extract improved eyesight (nearsightedness and visual acuity) and increased ocular blood supply. Bilberry significantly increases the production of rhodopsin in the retina, a purple pigment needed for night vision. Famously, bilberries were given to RAF pilots during WWII to help them during night missions.
Traditional Use/Benefits/Body Systems: The leaves have astringent properties and are traditionally used to treat diarrhea. Standardized extracts of the berries provide antioxidants that help protect the eyes from retinopathy and macular degeneration. Berry extracts are also used for chronic venous insufficiency (eg. varicose veins).
Clinical Studies/Scientific Research/References:
Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J, editors. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Boston (MA): Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000.
Mills S, Bone K. 2000. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy. Toronto (ON): Churchill Livingstone.
Ulbricht C, et al. An evidence-based systematic review of bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration. J Diet Suppl. 2009;6(2):162-200.
Disclaimer: This information in our Herbal Encyclopedia is intended only as a general reference for educational purposes. It is not a replacement for medical advice. This content does not provide dosage information, cautions/contraindications, or possible interactions with prescription drugs. Please consult any relevant product labels for detailed information on use and with a medical practitioner for individual health advice.