The word bilberry is also sometimes used in the common names of other species of the genus, including Vaccinium uliginosum L. (bog bilberry, bog blueberry, bog whortleberry, bog huckleberry, northern bilberry), Vaccinium caespitosum Michx. (dwarf bilberry), Vaccinium deliciosum Piper (Cascade bilberry), Vaccinium membranaceum (mountain bilberry, black mountain huckleberry, black huckleberry, twin-leaved huckleberry), and Vaccinium ovalifolium (oval-leafed blueberry, oval-leaved bilberry, mountain blueberry, high-bush blueberry).
Bilberries are found in damp, acidic soils throughout the temperate and subarctic regions of world. They are closely related to North American wild and cultivated blueberries and huckleberries in the genus Vaccinium. The easiest way to distinguish the bilberry is that it produces single or pairs of berries on the bush instead of clusters like the blueberry. Bilberry is used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species - see list of Lepidoptera which feed on Vaccinium.
Bilberries are rarely cultivated but fruits are sometimes collected from wild plants growing on public lands, notably in Scandinavia, Ireland and Poland. In Ireland the fruit is known as fraughan in English, from the Irish fraochán, and is traditionally gathered on the last Sunday in July, known as Fraughan Sunday.
The fruits can be eaten fresh, but are more usually made into jams, fools, juices or pies. In France they are used as a base for liqueurs and are a popular flavouring for sorbets and other desserts.
Bilberry is often said to improve night vision, and the story is told of RAF pilots in World War II using bilberry for that purpose. A recent study by the U.S. Navy found no effect, however, and the origins of the RAF story are unclear; it does not appear to be well known in the RAF itself.. Studies (, ) have shown that bilberry can reduce or reverse effects of degenerative eye disorders such as macular degeneration. The overall therapeutic use of bilberry is still clinically unproven.
It may have other beneficial effects on capillaries due to the strong antioxidant properties of its anthocyanidin flavonoids.
The leaves have historically been used to treat gastrointestinal ailments, applied topically or made into teas. The effects claimed have not been reproduced in the laboratory, however.
Other useful herb information: Yellow Dock | Coltsfoot | Maitake | Camellia | Passion Flower | Elderberry | Rhodiola
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