In Culpeper’s Complete Herbal, published 1652, the English physician Nicholas Culpeper describes the bilberry as having a “sweetish sharp taste; the juice of them giveth a purplish colour in the hands and lips that eat and handle them”. It is a perfect description of these delicious little berries. They have a sharp tang in their juicy sweetness and are so dark blue they appear to be almost black. It is true they stain the mouth purple, and the hands when they are picked from the low shrubs that bear them. Bilberry shrubs can be found in the wild on meadowland, heath and moorland, in north America, western Asia and across Europe.
While they are good enough to eat uncooked, bilberries also taste good when baked into a pie. They are probably best mixed with other berries and served with cream, ice cream or thick plain yogurt.
Bilberries, like other berries, are high in Vitamin C and are rich in antioxidants including anthocyanidins, which are especially beneficial to the eyes. Herbalists use bilberries in some traditional remedies and Native Americans use them for treatment of diabetes. In conventional health care, bilberry extract is used for treating glaucoma, and for sight problems caused by diabetes.
Bilberry jam was distributed in World War Two to British pilots, and proved to be effective in improving their night vision. Recent studies show bilberries do have a positive affect on vision, by strengthening blood vessels and improving the flow of blood to the eyes. This is confirmed in a comprehensive report on recent research undertaken at the Institute of Vision Research, Department of Ophthalmology, Yonsei University College of Medicine, Seoul, Korea.
Clinical trials are now taking place in the U.K. to test the ability of bilberries to help prevent the onset of cancer. Andy Gescher of the University of Leicester is studying the anti-cancer benefits of bilberries in the diet and finding some good evidence for this.
Bilberries have similar benefits to health as other fruits and berries, and their flavor is so intense they can be enjoyed in small quantities. With the extra benefit of helping to improve eyesight, and possibly to prevent cancer, they are truly a super food and make a great contribution to a well balanced healthy diet.
Cancer: Anti-cancer benefits linked to bilberries
Purified high-dose anthocyanoside oligomer administration improves nocturnal vision and clinical symptoms in myopia subjects
Jonghyun Lee, Hyung K. Lee, Chan Y. Kim, Young J. Hong, Chul M. Choe, Tae W. You and Gong J. Seong