Bilberries or European blueberries are closely related to blueberries and are cultivated in northern Asia, Europe and North America. The dark purple berries can be used both in fresh and dried forms. It is popular as a delicious ingredient in preserves, pies and jams as well as for their ability to treat a range of health conditions.
Benefits of bilberry
- Improves Vision – Bilberry is useful for the maintenance of eye health. Scientific studies have also advocated the effectiveness of bilberry extract in preventing age-related occular disorders along with other eye diseases such as cataract and night-blindness. Leutin present in the eye, when combined with the compounds present in bilberry, helps for enhancing vision. Another research conducted on bilberry also suggested that its beneficial enzyme-stimulating activity protects the eyes from endotoxin-induced uveitis. Its extract stimulate the production of rhodopsin pigment, which supports the eye to adapt to light changes.
- Treats Diarrhea – Bilberry has also been used to cure stomach disorders such as diarrhea, indigestion, and nausea. Its anti-inflammatory and astringent properties help to tighten tissues and reduce the symptoms of diarrhea.
- Anti-inflammatory Action – Due to the astringent action of tannins and pectin present in bilberry, it exerts a therapeutic effect on stomach inflammations. It also heals inflammation caused by the mucous membranes of the throat and mouth, when applied topically. Anti-inflammatory properties of this fruit also assist in curing conditions like thrombosis and angina.
- Blood Health – Research studies have validated the positive effects of bilberry on blood pressure and vascular health leading to the inhibition of platelet aggregation and smooth muscle contraction. It helps to strengthen capillaries, stimulates circulation and prevents disorders like varicose veins and hemorrhoids.
- Chronic Venous Insufficiency – Chronic venous insufficiency is a condition in which the valves in leg veins that carry blood to the heart get damaged. This results in itching, swelling, and pain in the leg. It sometimes leads to skin ulcers. The anthocyanosides present in bilberry helps to strengthen the blood vessels and decrease the symptoms.
- Controls Diabetes – The effectiveness of bilberry for preventing and curing diabetes has been appreciated since early times and has also been advocated by recent scientific findings. It assists in regulating the blood sugar levels in the body, due to the rich concentration of anthocyanins. Studies sugges that its dietary extract helps in improving the condition of hyperglycemia and insulin sensitivity in the people suffering from type-2 diabetes.
- Anticancer Potential – Bilberry extracts have an antiproliferative effect on human breast cancer cells. They prevent the proliferation of malignant cells and induce apoptosis. A comparative study conducted on different berries has rendered bilberry to be the most potent inhibitor of cancerous cells. It also prevents the side effects of chemotherapy.
- Neuroprotective Effects – Bilberry can reduce the risk of cognitive issues such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. The phenolic compounds present in the fruit, alleviates these neurological issues.
- Menstrual Cramps – Women have also reported its effects on lowering menstrual cramps. Bilberry extract is also effective in curing ulcers and inhibiting fibrocystic breast disease.
- Skin Care – Bilberry supports and toughens the collagen structures, stalls bacterial growth and assists in detoxification of the body. It is also recommended by doctors prior to surgeries in order to reduce the associated bleeding later.
- Antioxidant Power – The antioxidant power of bilberry makes it a valuable multipurpose remedy. The rich source of anthocyanosides ,an useful water-soluble chemical that possess radical scavenging qualities. They seek out for oxygen-free radicals produced during energy metabolism and neutralize their effects. This protective action prevents the occurrence of many problems caused as a consequence of oxidative stress.
- Maintains Liver Health – Researchers have shown that the inhibitory and radical scavenging activity of bilberry extracts enhances the level of beneficial glutathione and vitamin C in the body and reduces the concentration of nitric oxide in the liver tissues.
- Prevents Kidney Failure – Another antioxidant effect of bilberry is its defense against kidney damage. Scientific research has shown that its extracts help in normalizing multiple critical factors including levels of creatinine, serum, blood, urea, nitrogen, and nitric oxide. It also helps to excrete heavy metals from the body resulting in better detoxification.
- Cardioprotective Effects – The heart-protective effect is attributed to the potential of anthocyanins present in bilberry, which helps in regulating the LDL (bad) and HDL (good) cholesterol levels in the body. Another study has suggested that it also helps in preventing multiple cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerosis.
- Antimicrobial Effects – Bilberry contains phenolic components which are found to exert antimicrobial activity. This inhibitory action of the berry works against various human pathogens including salmonella, H.pylori, Bacillus, Clostridium and Staphylococcus aureus, and prevents the development of associated diseases. Recent scientific findings also suggest the potential of its extract in fighting antibiotic-resistant organisms.
Adding bilberries to your diet
Bilberry can be consumed in fresh, dried, powdered, extracted, or in liquid form. When purchasing the extract, ensure that you buy the ones that have 25% anthocyanin in it, which is useful for good health. There are different ways to serve the fruit such as:
- Add bilberry fruit or the leaves to hot water and serve yourself a healthy tea.
- Use the berry as a filling for pies and tarts.
- Prepare its jams and relish it with bread.
- You can also drink some refreshing bilberry juice. The juice is also used as a base for liqueur and as a flavoring for sorbets and other desserts.
- Consume in its raw form.
Although bilberry is considered safe for consumption, there are a few exceptions that need to be considered:
- Allergy: Some may experience allergic reactions like oral swelling, pale skin, weakness and breathing difficulties after consuming this berry. Caution should always be exercised while trying it for the first time.
- Medication Interaction: People taking anticoagulant and antiplatelet drugs should cautiously use bilberry extracts as they may interact detrimentally or alter the effectiveness of the medication.
- Toxicity: Some recent studies have also warned against the usage of the fruit extracts in high concentrations, as excessive consumption of this berry may cause toxicity and result in fatal complications in some individuals. 
- Surgery and Pregnancy: During special phases like lactation, pregnancy, and pre or post-surgery, it is best to avoid it. It is advisable to consult a medical expert to understand the appropriate dosage and discuss individualized concerns before using the berry for therapeutic usage, to get maximum benefits without any side effects.
Among the berries, bilberry is considered an important and prized botanical owing to its multiple beneficial properties. Thus these bilberries can deliciously boost the nutritional quotient of your diet and keep you healthy.
Recipe for Traditional Bilberry Pie
Total: 50 mins, Prep: 30 mins, Cook: 20 mins, Yield: Serves 6 – 8
For the Pastry:
300g./3 1/2 cups flour (plain/all-purpose)
150g./5 oz. butter (or a mixture of butter and lard)
3-4 tablespoons water (cold)
For the Filling:
100g./3 1/2 oz. sugar (fine or caster)
500g./1lb. 2 oz.apples (cooking variety, peeled, cored, and quartered)
25g./1 oz. butter (plus extra for greasing pie dish)
200g./7 oz. bilberries (washed and lightly dried)
1 egg (lightly beaten)
2 tablespoons sugar (fine/caster)
Preheat the oven to 200 C/400 F/Gas 6.
Butter a 22cm (9″) ovenproof dish.
Make the pastry via the following instructions or use a premade pastry.
Once the pastry is rested, divide it into two. Roll out one half into a circle to line the pie dish. Roll out the remaining pastry into another circle large enough to cover the pie dish and cut into 2.5cm/ 1 ” strips.
Place the pie dish and strips into the fridge for 20 minutes.
Place the sugar into a large baking bowl. Take the apple quarters and slice thickly, then add to the sugar and mix together.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a gentle heat. Add the apple and sugar mixture and cook for 5 minutes. Add the bilberries and cook for a further 2 minutes. Leave to cool.
Fill the pie dish with the cooled fruit mixture, weave the pastry strips onto the top of the pie filling to create a lattice and seal the edges by crimping together tightly.
Brush the pastry top with a little lightly beaten egg then sprinkle with the fine/caster sugar.
Bake for 20 minutes, until the crust is golden-brown and the fruit tender.
Serve with thick cream or ice cream.
Recipe for Bilberry cake
200g ground almonds
50g plain flour
1 heaped tsp baking powder
A bowlful of bilberries – about 200g (or use red or blackcurrants)
100g blanched almonds, chopped
40g dark brown sugar
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease a square cake tin (approx. X cm) and line with baking parchment.
Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, using a food mixture or electric beaters, or alternatively use a wooden spoon and a bit of elbow grease! Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. Fold in the ground almonds, flour and baking powder. Transfer into the prepared cake tin and level a little with a knife.
Wash the bilberries and pat gently dry, then sprinkle into an even layer over the top of the cake. Bake the cake in the oven for 30 minutes.
Whilst the cake is in the oven, make the streusel topping by rubbing together the chopped almonds with the butter and sugar using your thumbs and fingers, just like you are making a crumble. After the 30 minutes is up, remove the cake and sprinkle this mixture evenly over the surface. Slide the cake back into the oven for a further 20-25 minutes or so. It is ready when a skewer is inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and allow it to cool in the tin. This cake can be kept when well wrapped, for several days.