What is Bilberry?
Bilberry is a small fruit which is globular, with a flat top, about the size of a black currant. It is about 5 to 9 mm in diameter. They are dark in color, and usually appear near black with a slight shade of purple color. Belongs to the Ericaceae family, Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) are also known as whortleberry, wimberry or European blueberry. It has much in common with the Vaccinium cyanococcus (American blueberries). To distinguish it from other Vaccinium relatives, bilberry is also known as common bilberry or blue whortleberry. Other regional names may include bog bilberry, heidelbeere, huckleberry, blaeberry, hurtleberry, huckleberry, myrtleberry, whinberry, winberry and fraughan.
Bilberry: Origin and History
Bilberry is native to Continental Northern Europe, Ireland, the British Isles, Iceland and across the Caucasus into Northern Asia. It is found in the wild on heathlands and in acidic soils.
Bilberry has been used in traditional European medicine for nearly 1,000 years. Bilberry fruits have been used directly or as tea or liqueur in the traditional Austrian medicines in the treatment of disorders of the gastrointestinal tract and diabetes. (SEE ALSO: How Acai Berries are Good for Your Health)
Various bilberry herbal supplements are also available in the market. These supplements are used to treat diabetes, diarrhea, cardiovascular and other health conditions. Because of its high concentrations of anthocyanins, many researchers are interested in bilberry.
In cooking purposes, the bilberry fruit is commonly used for the same purposes as the Vaccinium cyanococcus, such as cakes, muffins, jams, cookies, sauces, juices, candies and syrups. Bilberry leaf is also used in the traditional medicines for different conditions, including scurvy, infections, diarrhea, burns and diabetes.
Similar to other berries such as blueberries, huckleberries, acai berries, bilberries are the richest natural source of anthocyanin. Anthocyanin is a compound that provides bilberry its dark—blue color. Along with anthocyanin, it also contains other phenolic components such as tannins, quercetin, pectin and catechins.
It also contains carbonic acids, alkaloids and a range of vital nutrients including vitamins A, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin C, vitamin E and K. It also contains mineral such as chromium, manganese, zinc and iron.
Per 100 gram serving of bilberry provides —
- Calories: 44 K cal.
- Protein: 0.7 gram
- Carbohydrates: 11.5 gram
- Total Dietary Fiber: 2.8 gram
- Calcium: 15 mg
- Iron: 0.8 mg
- Magnesium: 7 mg
- Phosphorus: 9 mg
- Potassium: 103 mg
- Manganese: 3.3 mg
- Vitamin A: 1.08 µg
- Beta Carotene: 13 µg
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamin): 0.03 mg
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): 0.03 mg
- Vitamin B3 (Niacin): 0.583 mg
- Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid): 0.16 mg
- Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine): 0.06 mg
- Vitamin B9 (Folate): 6 µg
- Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid): 44 mg
Science—Based Health Benefits of Bilberries
Here are some proven health benefits of bilberries; including —
1. Rich in Nutrients:
Bilberries are a fruit rich in healthy antioxidants and nutrients. (SEE ALSO: Goji Berries: Origin, Nutrition, Health Benefits and Side-Effects)
Accordingly, European blueberries can be expected to offer about 85 calories, 4 gram fiber and 15 gram of naturally—occurring sugar per 148 grams serving. In addition to this, bilberries also contain around 85% of water, as well as good amounts of vitamin C, vitamin K and manganese.
2. Improved Vision Health:
Bilberries also may help to improve vision, particularly night vision. A research held on the people with glaucoma, found that taking 120 mg of bilberry anthocyanins regularly may improve visual functioning by 30 percent.
An another study reveals that consuming about 160 to 480 mg of powdered European blueberries (bilberry) extract regularly may significantly reduce eye dryness and other symptoms of eye fatigue. However, more research are needed to confirm these benefits.
3. May Reduce Inflammation:
Inflammation is believed to be the root cause of many health diseases. Bilberries may help in this regard. European blueberries contains a high amount of anthocyanins, which are the antioxidants with anti—inflammatory properties.
According to a study, people who consumed 300 mg of bilberry anthocyanins regularly experienced 38 to 60 percent reduction in inflammatory markers.
An another study revealed that consuming about 330 ml of bilberry juice daily may significantly reduce the markers of inflammation, compared with a placebo. However, more research are needed to prove these benefits.
4. May Lower Blood Sugar Levels:
Bilberries may also act as a natural herbal remedy to lower blood sugar levels in the people with type-2 diabetes.
Many health experts believe that berries have the ability to prevent the breakdown and absorption of carbohydrates in the gut, similarly to some medications used to lower blood sugar.
A research held on animals states that the anthocyanins contents present in the bilberries may stimulate the secretion of insulin, which is needed to help to move sugar from blood into the cells.
According to an another study, the bilberry extract may reduce the levels of blood sugar in the adults with type-2 diabetes more effectively than a placebo. (SEE ALSO: 5 Delicious Homemade Acai Bowl Recipes)
An another 8-week scientific research states that a diet enriched with fresh European blueberries (bilberries) may increase insulin secretion in the people with metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions that increases the risk of stroke, type-2 diabetes and heart disease.
5. Promotes Heart Health:
Bilberries may also benefit heart health. European blueberries are rich in vitamin K, which is known to prevent the formation of blood clots, reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke.
In a 8-week study, 35 people were regularly given a mixture of various berries, including bilberries, experienced improved blood pressure, platelet function and HDL (high—density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels. All of them are linked to a healthier heart.
In an another 12-week study, people who took 320 mg of anthocyanins from blackcurrants and European blueberries (bilberries) regularly experienced an increase of 11 percent in HDL or good cholesterol, a 14 percent reduce in LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels, compared with less than a 1 percent reduce in the placebo group. (SEE ALSO: Blueberry Benefits : 10 Proven Benefits of Blueberries)
6. Boost Immune System:
Due to its high antioxidant and vitamin C content, bilberries can help to keep your immune system in a healthy state. It may also have anti—microbial benefits.
European blueberries (bilberries) also contain high anthocyanin content, a compound which is known to aid in antioxidant systems to protect the body’s cells from stress.
7. In Painful Menstruation (Dysmenorrhea):
According to an early research, consuming a specific bilberry product (Tegens) twice for 3 days before starting of the periods and continuing for about eight days for at least two consecutive menstrual cycles, may reduce headache, pain, nausea and vomiting in women with dysmenorrhea. However, more research are needed in this regard.
8. Reduced Risks of Alzheimer’s Disease
Research states that vegetable and fruit juice containing various phenolic compounds may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. In some cases, symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease was considerably reduced upon the treatment with quercetin, myricetin or anthocyanin—rich extracts present in bilberry fruit.
9. Helps against Urinary Tract Infections:
Cranberry fruit helps to fight against urinary tract infections (UTIs). Bilberries contain almost similar nutritional profile to that of the cranberries. So, it is believed that bilberry may also be used to treat UTIs.
10. Help to Protect Skin:
European blueberries (bilberry) has been utilized in the treat of numerous skin conditions, such as skin ulcers and varicose veins. Bilberry fruit also help to enhance the circulation of blood and has also been utilized to fight against venous deficit, which in turn causes particular skin difficulties.
11. Prevent Cancer:
Bilberry extracts may play a vital role fighting against the development of various cancers including breast cancer, colon cancer and leukemia.
Studies conducted on different types of berries has rendered bilberry fruit to be the most powerful in inhibition of cancerous cells. It is due to phenolic components delphinidin and glycosides present in bilberries, which prevent the propagation of malignant cells and induces apoptosis.
12. Diarrhea and wounds:
Bilberries have been used in the European medicine since 1,000 years, mainly to treat diarrhea. Bilberry contains tannins, a substance that act as an anti-inflammatory and an astringent. However, more research are needed in this regard.
13. Reduced Bad Cholesterol:
Research state that anthocyanosides found in European blueberries may improve circulation, strengthen blood vessels and prevent the oxidation of low—density lipoprotein (LDL or bad cholesterol), a major risk factor for atherosclerosis. However, more research are needed in this regard.
How Much Bilberry Should I Take Daily?
There are not enough scientific research to provide a recommended dose of bilberry. However, a typical dose of ripe berries (dried) is 20—60 grams daily. Many sources also state that some individuals also drink a type of bilberry tea made from 5 to 10 grams of mashed bilberries. Suggested dosages are —
- Dried Ripe Berries— 20 to 60 gram per day (orally)
- Extracts— 20 to 60 gram per day (orally)
- Tea— 1 cup orally; 1 g dried leaf per 150 milliliter water
- Topical— Apply 10% decoction topically (as required); dried berries boiled in water for decoction
The appropriate dosage of bilberry may depend on several factors including gender, age, weight, and medical history. Consult your doctor to get personalized advice.
Bilberry Vs Blueberry
What is The Difference Between A Bilberry and A Blueberry?
There is always a confusion between bilberry and blueberry fruit. But, one can distinguish the two closely similar fruits by the following differences —
- Bilberry fruit contains much deeper blue color than blueberries.
- Bilberries are very acidic, so the taste of them is completely different from a blueberry. However, bilberries can be consumed in their raw form. Vaccinium myrtillus or European blueberry really shines when cooked and used in jellies, jams, pies and sauces.
- Blueberries are easy to grow and are easily found around the world, whereas bilberries are much rarer.
- Bilberries are the richest source of anthocyanins. Its colorful plant pigments may protect you from free radicals. Whereas, blueberry contains smaller amounts of anthocyanins.
- Bilberry and blueberry both have nearly similar nutritional profile, but bilberries are slightly higher in most of the minerals and vitamins.
- While eating, bilberry fruit will stain your teeth, tongue and hands a deep blue or purple color. It is also used as a dye for food and clothes. Whereas blueberries have flesh of a less intense color and are less staining.
- Bilberries (European blueberries) are usually harvested from wild plants, whereas blueberries are usually cultivated and are widely available commercially.
- When cooked as a dessert, bilberries have a much stronger, more tart flavor and a rougher texture than blueberries.
What are The Side Effects of Bilberry?
Common side effects of bilberry may include —
- Yellowing skin and eyes (jaundice)
- Excitation (on overdose)
- May affect blood sugar levels
- Wasting syndrome (cachexia) — muscle loss, weight loss, fatigue, loss of appetite and weakness
- Bilberry fruit naturally contains substances called as tannins. If you have a history of allergy to foods containing tannin, do avoid bilberry
- Bilberry fruit and bilberry leaf extracts may reduce your blood sugar levels
- Pregnant or nursing women should not consume the extracts of bilberry, as safety isn’t known
- Bilberries contain higher amounts of anthocyanins, which may inhibit drugs such as antibiotics, anticancer medications, beta blockers or medicines for arthritis. High flavonoid consumption from bilberry supplements may increase the risk of bleeding when taken with blood—thinners such as warfarin, NSAIDs, and aspirin
Here, it is advisable that supplements are not tested for safety. You need to use bilberry supplements carefully or under the supervision of your doctor.
Drug Interactions with Bilberry
Some drugs used to treat diabetes may interact with bilberry fruit. It may cause your blood sugar to go too low as diabetes medication are used to lower blood sugar levels. Taking bilberry leaves along with anti—diabetic drugs may also reduce blood sugar.
Some medications used for diabetes include glipizide (Glucotrol), rosiglitazone (Avandia), glimepiride (Amaryl), glyburide (Diabeta, Glynase PresTab, Micronase), insulin, chlorpropamide (Diabinese), pioglitazone (Actos), tolbutamide (Orinase) and others.
How to Add Bilberries to Your Diet?
You can add bilberries into your diet in many ways. You can consume them in their raw or dried form.
Bilberries make a great addition to muffins, pancakes and other baked products. You can also include bilberries in salads, oatmeal, smoothies and yogurt parfaits. In addition to this, you can also use them to make jam or just simply mash a handful of blueberries with a fork to use as a quick spread on your toast.
What’s more, bilberry supplements are an alternative way to include this fruit into your daily diet.
Bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillus) are small European blueberries that are rich in many healthful nutrients and beneficial compounds. It may help to reduce inflammation, blood sugar levels, improve vision and heart health. Bilberry fruit may even improve the functioning of brain, fight—off bacteria and help to reduce the symptoms of ulcerative colitis. Like other berries, bilberries are a healthy addition to your diet !!
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