Learn More About Bilberry
What is bilberry?
Bilberry (known in America as huckleberry) is a shrub that thrives in the cold climate of Europe’s higher latitudes, even in acidic, nutrient-poor soil. A close relative of blueberry shrubs, it is also consumed much the same way, either fresh, frozen, or in jams and jellies. This berry is so highly esteemed that in countries such as Finland there exists a specific legal right granting strangers the freedom to go on to other people’s property to pick bilberries, as long as they do not poach from gardens.
What is bilberry used for?
Bilberry contains antioxidant pigments called anthocyanins that give it its distinctive dark blue color. Anthocyanins seem to help the human eye produce more of a substance called rhopsin, which enables vision to adjust to less light. During World War Two, bomber pilots stationed in the British Isles noticed that when they ate bilberry jam their night-time bombing accuracy increased, and as a result the British government hastily procured most of the bilberry jam in England for them.
A number of researchers have also concluded that bilberry improves blood flow through the capillaries, thereby promoting better delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the eyes, as well as possibly reducing the risk of MD, or macular degeneration, a common eye problem in the elderly. This can have a powerful effect when it comes to preserving healthy vision.
Bilberry may also serve a role in the prevention of glaucoma, a disease of intra-ocular pressure that causes damage to the optic nerve and, left untreated, can cause blindness. It seems to help by stabilizing and preventing the destruction of collagen in the eye tissue. This same beneficial effect on the strength and integrity of collagen, along with its antioxidant properties, suggests that bilberry can help prevent cataracts, another common eye problem in the elderly.
But bilberry isn’t just for the eyes. Because it contains tannins that act as powerful, non-toxic anti-inflammatory compounds, in Europe and increasingly in America, bilberry is used to treat venous insufficiency, a condition that causes swelling and varicose veins (not to mention hemorrhoids). The anti-inflammatory and circulation-boosting effects of bilberry also helps combat skin ulcers on the legs, as well as the pain and numbness associated with Reynaud’s disease. Other potential uses include promoting healthier gum tissue, healing mouth sores, and even controlling diarrhea.
Moreover, herbalists have long valued bilberry for its strong antiseptic properties, as well as its ability to help with painful menstruation and fibrocystic breast disease. Finally, keep in mind that darkly pigmented plants such as bilberry have become a focus of intense scrutiny among ant-aging researchers. The anthocyanins in bilberry are among nature’s most powerful free radical scavengers, and may play a role in reducing the rate at which our cells deteriorate with age.
How is bilberry taken?
Bilberry can be ingested as the berry itself (although most people in the United States will be unable to find it in that form), as well as in tinctures, teas, and pills. Most consumers seem to prefer either tablets or capsules, since this is a convenient way to obtain bilberry’s possible benefits. Be sure to look for a brand of bilberry that indicates that it has been standardized to contain a high level of anthocyanins. Some bilberry supplements only need to be taken once a day, while others should be used with breakfast and supper.
Is bilberry safe?
Bilberry appears to be extremely safe, although those suffering form any serious medical conditions should, as always, consult with a knowledgeable health care provider before using it.
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These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.