Steven Foster Group, Inc.

Imagery and Information on Medicinal Plants since 1974

Bilberry Photos

Our selction of Bilberry photos includes images of the fruits, plant in fruit, wild bilberry habitats, flowers and harvest of bilberry. Images were shot in the Dynaric Alps in the Balkans in Montenegro, near Plav on the Albanian border. Some close-up berry shots are Icelandic plants, received overnight via Fed Ex and fast action in obtaining a permit for importing fresh plant samples. Other photos were taken in the Czech Republic near Jicin, and in eastern Switzerland.

See recent article on Bilberry adulteration:

Foster, S. and M. Blumenthal. 2012. The Adulteration of Commerical Bilberry Extracts. HerbalGram 96:64-73

Selected References:

Cunio, L. 1993. Vaccinium myrtillus. Australian Journal of Medical Herbalism, 5(4):81- 85.

Leung, A. Y. and S. Foster. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Foods, Drugs and Cosmetics. Second Edition. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996.

Morazzoni, P. and E. Bombvardelli. Vaccinium myrtillus L. Fitoterapia, 67(1):3-29, 1996.

Tyler, V. E. Herbs of Choice - The Therapeutic Use of Phytomedicinals, Binghamton, New York: Pharmaceutical Products Press, 1994.

Weiss, F. R. Herbal Medicine (translated from German by A. R. Meuss). Beaconsfield, England: Beaconsfield Publishers, 1988

For more recent abstracts and references use the National Library of Medicine's PubMed site.

Please note: Photo previews are presented for possible licensing for commercial or editorial use, usually on a one-time, non-exclusive basis. If selections are made and licensing fees paid for use, appropriate usage rights will be made upon receipt of payment. These images may not be captured, copied, or stored in any media presently available or developed in the future without payment of licensing fee, and a written licensing agreement. Ownership, possession and copyright are retained by Steven Foster. No other rights expressed or implied. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Thank you! Please contact Steven Foster for information on licensing fee and terms.

Bilberry • Vaccinium myrtillus

If you grew up among the heaths, moors, and woodlands of northern Europe, or for that matter are a wild foods enthusiast in subarctic North America, you may be familiar with bilberries as the stuff of jam or pies. Today the average consumer is most likely to find bilberries in the form of purple-colored gelatin capsules in bottles of dietary supplement products. Bilberry Vaccinium myrtillus is a relative of blueberry in the heath family. Bilberry is small shrub to about a foot in height with sweet, plump blue-black berries. It grows in heaths, and forests of northern Europe, western Asia, and the subarctic reaches of North America. Its range extends to Western Mongolia. Bilberry is common in northern Europe and the mountains of southern Europe. It thrives in damp acid soils, damp woods, sandy and rocky soils, covering vast areas. Commercia fruit harvest of the fruits is from wild regions of Europe. The genus name Vaccinium derives from the old Latin name used in the works of Virgil and Pliny. The species name "myrtillus" refers to the resemblance of the leaves to those of myrtle. In England the plant is known as bilberry, bleaberry, blueberry, as well as common whortleberry.


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bilberry harvest

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About OUR Bilberry Photographs

Our Bilberry photo gallery currently contains flowers, fruits, harvest and habitat images.


Bilberry Fruits

Bilberry is valued as a nutritious food and wild edible delicacy. The berries are an ancient food in northern Europe. They have long been sold in English markets. In Scotland the berries are eaten with milk, and used for pies, tarts, syrups, and jellies. The berries have also been used for wine-making. In the 1870s, a USDA report noted that the fruits were a favorite food of various Indian groups of the Rocky Mountain region. The use of bilberry fruits as an herbal medicine emerges in the Middle Ages. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), the first women to write an herbal, recommended the plant for inducing menstruation. In the 16th century German herbalists, such as Hieronymus Bock, recommended the berries for treatment of bladders stones, liver disorders, and in syrups for coughs and lung ailments. In the eighteenth century, bilberry preparations were used for various conditions, typhoid fever, infections of the mouth, skin, and urinary tract, and to treat gout and rheumatism. By the early twentieth century, the dried berry tea was used as an astringent for diarrhea and dysentery, a diuretic, cooling nutritive tonic, scurvy preventative (vitamin C deficiency), and to stop bleeding. It is also used as an astringent and disinfectant mouthwash for mouth inflammations. Modern interest in bilberry arose through serendipity after the Second World War. During night bombing missions, British Royal Air Force pilots reportedly experienced an improvement in night vision after eating bilberry jam. In the mid 1960s, reference to these observations eventually led to the first laboratory and later clinical studies on the effects of bilberry fruit extracts on the eyes and vascular system.

The effectiveness of the fruit extracts is linked to anthocyanosides. These compounds are derivatives of anthocyans—the pigments responsible for red, blue or violet colors in flowers and fruits. The majority of studies on bilberry have involved extracts purified to contain from 25 to 36 percent anthocyanosides. At least fifteen different anthocyanoside compounds have been identified in bilberry extracts. Most standardized bilberry extracts available as dietary supplements on the American market contain 25 percent anthocyanosides. Like most herbal medicines, positive effects obtained from the plant are not necessarily attributed to only one chemical component. In addition to anthocyanocides, bilberry fruits contain several alkaloids including myrtine and epimyrtine. These and other components, in one way or another, could help to contribute to bilberry's beneficial effects.

Bilberry Use Today

Among the most credible uses of bilberry relate to peripheral vascular disorders, especially those involving capillary fragility. Tiny blood vessels (capillaries) can become fragile, common in aging populations, producing capillary fragility, leading to more frequent bruising. Weak capillaries are associated with poor blood circulation to connective tissues and inflammatory conditions such as arthritis. The antioxidant activity of ilberry anthocyanosides serve to 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. Given its proven ability to help reduce the fragility of blood capillaries, bilberry fruit products have been studied in clinical trials involving patients suffering from a wide range of diseases including diabetes, arteriosclerosis, hypertension, varicose veins, liver disorders, peptic ulcers, and other conditions in which capillary fragility may play a role in causing symptoms secondary to the disease itself.

Most studies have been by French or Italian researchers and published in those languages. Studies in the mid to late 1960s showed that bilberry extracts produced a reduction in symptoms associated with decrease resistance in blood capillaries such as bruising, blood in the stool, and minute, pin-head sized bleeding spots on the skin. In various clinical studies with patients suffering from water retention in the lower limbs with varicose vein symptoms, bilberry extracts helped to reduce subjective symptoms such as a feeling of heaviness, pain in the legs and ankles, and sensations of burning, pricking or numbness of the skin. One double-blind placebo-controlled study in 47 patients with various peripheral vascular disorders also reported subjective improvement in the symptoms enumerated above, as well as an improvement in swelling (due to water retention) and movement of finger joints in patients suffering from Raynaud's syndrome. Results of clinical studies involving more than 700 patients with various conditions related to poor micro-circulation in cases of atherosclerosis, a tendency to bruising, hemorrhoids and varicose veins have shown the extracts help reduce damage from free radicals (antioxidant effects) and promote healthy circulation to the extremities. These studies involve extracts of the fruits standardized to contain 25 to 36 percent anthocyanosides. The tea has also been shown useful, mostly through clinical experiences (rather than controlled studies) for diarrhea, and inflammation of the mucous membranes of the mouth and throat. In European herbal medicine, bilberry fruit preparations are used to enhance poor micro-circulation, including eye conditions such as night-blindness and diabetic retinopathy. The German Commission E has produced a positive monograph on bilberry fruits, which are allowed for the treatment of acute diarrhea, and for treatment of mild inflammations of the mucous membranes of the mouth and throat.

Based on anecdotal reports from British air force pilots of increased night vision after eating bilberry jam, in the 1960s French researchers set out to discover if bilberry had any potential for the treatment of eye diseases. In experiments with rabbits, a mixture of the anthocyanosides from bilberry was found to increase the animals' ability to adapt to darkness. The improvement in visual function was related to an increase in the regeneration rate of rhodopsin, a purple pigment essential for helping the rods in the eye adapt to light and dark. The retina located at the back of the eye is a specialized structure that responds to light. Special cells called rods and cones in the retina are what makes it work. The cones are adapted to sense details and distinguish colors. They are like the color and tint adjustment dials on a television. The rods detect lightness and darkness. They are like a television's contrast and brightness adjustments. Bilberry's ability to speed up the regeneration of rhodopsin in the rods helps the retina to improve adaptation to light and dark. Studies on anthocyanosides from bilberry have also been shown to modify enzyme processes that are involved in producing damage to the retina. Several clinical studies have been carried out with bilberry fruit extracts either alone or in combination with beta-carotene and vitamin E for disorders related to impaired photo-sensitivity or poor micro-circulation to the retina. Four studies were published in the late 1960s by Italian researchers which showed that both healthy individuals and patients with visual disorders had a significant improvement in night vision, more rapid adaptation to darkness, and faster restoration of visual acuity following exposure to bright flashes of light. Additional studies on air-traffic controllers, airplane pilots and truck drivers also showed that a standardized bilberry fruit extracthelped to improve night vision and enhanced adjustment to darkness. In two clinical trials, Italian researchers found that 76 percent of patients with myopia (short or near sightedness) had an improvement in retinal sensibility. The patients were given 150 mg per day of a bilberry fruit extract for 15 days, along with vitamin A. Diabetic retinopathy is a condition secondary to diabetes mellitus, in which there is non-inflammatory degeneration of the retina. At least three double-blind placebo-controlled studies, in which patients were given 320 to 480 mg per day of a high-anthocyanoside-containing extract from 1 to 12 months showed positive improvements. A significant reduction or disappearance of hemorrhages in the retina was observed. These studies were conducted by Italian researchers from 1982 to 1987.

Bilberry - The Future

Most studies on bilberry were conducted by French or Italian researchers in the 1960s and 70s. Much of the research is published in relatively obscure foreign language journals. The fact that the results are dated, difficult to assess due to language barriersmake scientists slow to accept results. A number of pharmacological and clinical studies have involved the isolated anthocyanosides used in injectable forms. Clearly more studies, involving a great number of patients using oral dosage forms are needed if we are to accept the claims made for bilberry fruit extracts. Although more studies are needed to prove effectiveness, safety is well-established. A post-marketing retrospective study followed 2,295 patients who had been prescribed a 36% anthocyanoside standardized bilberry fruit extract. Researchers showed positive results for improvement of symptoms associated with lower limb venous insufficiency, conditions of capillary fragility and altered permeability of blood capillaries, disease-related changes in microcirculation of the retina, and to reduce itching, inflammation and swelling following surgical removal of hemorrhoids. No adverse effects were reported even for prolonged use of the extract. The German Commission E monograph on bilberry fruits lists no known contraindication, interactions with other drugs, or side effects. Given its long history of food use, and clinical experience with extracts over a sixty year period, safety is not at issue. In the United States, bilberry dietary supplement products including tablets and capsules of the dried fruits are available, as well as products standardized to 25% anthocyanosides. Standardized products often give more predictable results. The dried ripe berries are used in a dose of 20 to 60 g daily, prepared as a tea, divided into three doses. Standardized products are taken at a dose of 120 to 480 mg per day, (usually 340 mg) divided into two or three doses. Whether you consider it a wild edible delicacy or a dietary supplement, bilberry is an herb that's here to stay.