Principal Proposed Uses
Other Proposed Uses
Probably Not Effective Uses
Often called European blueberry, bilberry is closely related to American blueberry, cranberry, and huckleberry. The flesh of bilberry is red, and is traditionally used, like blueberries, in the preparation of jams, pies, cobblers, and cakes.Bilberry fruit also has a long medicinal history. In the twelfth century, Abbess Hildegard of Bingen wrote of bilberry's usefulness for inducing menstruation. Over subsequent centuries, the list of uses for bilberry grew to include a bewildering variety of possibilities, from bladder stones to typhoid fever.
What Is Bilberry Used for Today? The modern use of bilberry dates back to World War II, when British Royal Air Force pilots reported that a good dose of bilberry jam just prior to a mission improved their night vision , often dramatically. Subsequent investigation showed that bilberry contains biologically active substances known as anthocyanosides. Some evidence suggests that anthocyanosides may benefit the retina, as well as strengthen the walls of blood vessels, reduce inflammation, and stabilize tissues containing collagen (such as tendons, ligaments, and cartilage). 1-7
However, neither anecdote nor basic scientific evidence of this type can prove a treatment effective. Only double-blind, placebo-controlled
studies can do that. (For more information, see the article Why Does This Database Rely on Double-blind Studies?
) Regarding night vision, the balance of the evidence suggests that bilberry is not
helpful. Slight evidence hints that bilberry might be helpful for diabetic retinopathy
. One double-blind study suggests that bilberry might be helpful for hemorrhoids
. Finally, because the anthocyanosides in bilberry resemble the oligomeric proanthocyanidin complexes ( OPCs
) found in grape seed and pine bark, bilberry has been recommended for all the same uses as those substances, including easy bruising
, varicose veins
, minor injuries
, and surgery support
. Animal studies also suggest that bilberry leaves (rather than the fruit) may be helpful for improving blood sugar control in diabetes , and also in lowering blood triglycerides . 8