Bilberry: uses, health benefits and dosage

Siski Green / 26 February 2020

Bilberries, also known as whimberries, whortleberries and fraughan, grow wild in Europe and bilberry extract is available as a supplement.



What are bilberries?

Bilberries are blue berries but they’re not blueberries, even though they’re related to them. Blueberries and bilberries are in the same plant family, but bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillus) are native to northern Europe, while blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) are native to north America and are usually cultivated rather than growing wild like bilberries.

What is difference between a blueberry and a bilberry?

An easy way to spot the difference between the two is by checking the flesh – bilberries have dark red or purple flesh, while blueberries have light green fruit pulp.

What are bilberries used for?

Just like blueberries, bilberries are an excellent source of antioxidants and they’re a particularly good source of anthocyanins, which give them their dark blue colour. They’re also considered effective in aiding in vision, reducing inflammation and lowering blood sugar.

What’s the history of bilberries?

You may have heard that RAF pilots ate bilberries during WW2 to help with night vision – while they may have eaten them, there isn’t any evidence that eating them directly improves night vision, unfortunately.

As bilberries grow wild in much of northern Europe, they have been eaten for centuries. In Yorkshire, bilberry pie has earned the nickname ‘mucky-mouth’ pie because of the tell-tale red-purplish stains around a person’s mouth after they’ve eaten some! The bilberry has different names depending on where you are – in Derbyshire, for example, it’s known as a whimberry; in Ireland it’s known as fraughan; and in the south it’s known as a whortleberry. But most commonly it’s called a bilberry.

What do bilberries taste like

Bilberries taste similar to blueberries but have a sweeter, stronger taste than commercially farmed blueberries available in supermarkets.

What’s the best way to take bilberries?

You can eat fresh bilberries when they’re in season, or in jams or pies. They’re also available in supplement and powder form. In supplement or powder form there may be larger quantities of specific nutrients or extracts, but until research is done comparing eating fresh to dried bilberries, or supplements, for example, it’s impossible to know if the benefits will be the same for each.

Do bilberries really work?

Taken in supplement form, bilberry may help strength your blood vessels and improve symptoms of varicose veins and haemorrhoids. Although there is no research to indicate exactly why this might be it’s is likely down to their high antioxidant content, and anti-inflammatory action.

Anthocyanins are known to help reduce inflammation and bilberries pack a powerful punch in that regard. The fruit itself contains around 300 to 700mg per 100g of fruit, while there can be around 25 per cent of a standard bilberry extract can be made up of anthocyanosides (check the label if you’re unsure). Similarly, this active ingredient can help improve tissues wtihin your tendons and ligaments.

How much bilberry should I take daily?

A recommended quantity of bilberry is a twice-daily dose of 1000mg in capsule form.

How long do bilberries take to work?

There isn’t enough research or data to say exactly how long it will take for bilberries will take to work. It is suggested that you take any extract for no more than a year, however.

Where can I get bilberries?

Bilberries are available locally in season (the last week of July and first two weeks of August, generally) or dried in healthfood stores. You can also find bilberry extract or supplements in healthfood shops or chemists, and online.

What are the side effects of eating bilberries or bilberry extract?

Eating bilberries as part of a varied diet shouldn’t produce any side effects. Taking more than the recommended dosage of dried bilberries or supplements might be a problem, especially if you’re allergic to tannis as bilberries contain high levels.

Are there any contraindications when taking bilberries?

As bilberries contain high levels of anthocyanins, they may have an impact on anti-cancer meds, beta blockers, arthritis meds and antibiotics – check with your GP. There is little research on what might happen if you take large quantities of high-concentrated bilberry supplements, so it’s best to avoid large amounts.

There is a possibility that bilberry could affect blood sugar levels or blood clotting times. Diabetics and people taking anti-coagulant drugs should see their GP before taking a supplement.

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The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.