The bilberry is a small, dark blue berry which is native to Europe. Bilberry, also known as huckleberry, is very closely related to the blueberry, and shares many of the same health giving properties.
In Europe, the bilberry has long been used for medicinal purposes, and particularly for its effects on eye health. During World War II, it was noted that bilberry jam improved night vision during flights.
Bilberry is rich in anthocyanosides, which are potent antioxidants. Anthocyanosides are known to increase retinal pigments, thus aiding vision, and they also open up blood vessels, lowering blood pressure and allowing nutrients to pass through capillaries more easily – again, of benefit to eye health.
There is some evidence that bilberry can help to prevent diabetic retinopathy, and can treat chronic venous insufficiency, a leading cause of varicose veins.
Bilberries are also rich in tannins which have an anti-inflammatory effect in the body. The tannins have an astringent affect in the digestive system, tightening membranes and reducing secretions, helping to treat diarrhoea. Bilberry tea can also soothe a sore throat due to the same anti-inflammatory tannins.
Bilberries can be eaten like any other berry, but you can also buy bilberry supplements, commonly in the form of tablets or capsules.