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The following two articles are a reformatted and slightly edited version
(the only textual changes are the addition of section headings, and
the removal of an inappropriate apostrophe) of articles found on
Robert Bidleman's Herbal Hall.
Bilberry, Huckleberry, Whortleberry, etc.
by Robert Bidleman
Geography and History
Vaccinium species are found in cooler areas of North America
and Eurasia, usually in moist, acid soils in wooded areas, heaths
and barren places. They are especially common under canopies of
old growth trees. Vaccinium leaves were used by the Kashaya Pomo
in Northern California for diabetes and eye disorders, and
bilberry is mentioned in many older texts in Buryatia, Europe,
and China as an herb valuable for its powerful ability to
correct many diseases of the digestive system, circulatory
system, and eyes. For centuries bilberry has been used as a
circulatory enhancer and diabetic aid (Hutchens; Moore).
People of the North East USA have used blueberry leaves for
diabetes for many years, and this action has been supported in at
least one clinical trial (Allen).
Chemical Composition and Main Effects
Most scientific research has
been done on V. myrtillus (bilberry). The following has been
found in bilberry: ericolin, arbutin, beta-amyrin, nonacosane,
and anthocyanosides. Anthocyanosides are a type of flavonoid
which causes the deep blue-red color of many berries.
Anthocyanosides may protect the vascular system by strengthening
the capillary walls. This may produce many of the secondary
benefits such as lowering of blood pressure, reduction of clots,
reducing varicosities and bruising, reversing poor blood supply,
and improving blood supply. Bilberry is used in Europe before
surgery to prevent excessive bleeding and hemorrhaging. A recent
German medical journal reports bilberry effective in reducing
excessive bleeding by 71% (Lietti). Bilberry also thins the blood
by inhibiting platelet adhesion (Bottecchia). This combination of
results in improved blood flow and may reduce clotting-related
- improving capillary strength,
- reduction of capillary leakage, and
- blood thinning
Improvement of Vision
During World War II Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots were forced to
fly at night in order to accomplish any deep assault on Germany.
Many pilots and their crew members complained of the poor
visibility and its effects on their performance. Pilots noted
that if they took bilberry jam, their night vision improved.
Researchers found fifty years later what the RAF already knew,
that bilberry's powerful effects increased retinal purple
(rhodopsin) by dramatic amounts in just twenty minutes, sometimes
less. One study showed bilberry to improve eyesight and increase
occular blood supply in 75% of patients (Sala). It improved
nearsightedness after five months of regular use while an 83%
improvement in visual acuity was recorded after only fifteen
days. One of the more encouraging statistics regarding bilberry's
visual enhancing properties is that over 80% of the people taking
bilberry for the first time improved on their visual acuity exam
and passed a night vision test. Long term improvements took an
average of six weeks with regular doses (Sala).
Prevention of Free Radical Damage
The anthocyanosides of bilberry, which may vary in amounts
from one variety to another, have been proven to be one of the
more powerful antioxidants. Ranked higher in activity than
vitamins E and C by Dr. Pierre Braquet, a well known
phyto-researcher, anthocyanosides prevent free radical damage to
collagen and collagenous tissue, making it potentially useful for
diseases such as osteoarthritis, gout, and periodontal diseases.
Vaccinium myrtillus' anthocyanosides proved consistently to
increase the acetylcholine-induced relaxation of isolated
coronary arteries in humans (Boniface). This is a promising
update to the already impressive list of benefits of bilberry.
Improvement of Digestion
Another quality of bilberry is the effect it has on the digestive
system, most notably on the stomach. A recent study showed
bilberry to inhibit ulcers in 63% of patients at risk (control
group, 12%) (Magistretti).
Vaccinium species have a legendary reputation as aid to an
diabetics. A dual action makes it valuable in diabetes -- it
improves circulation and also modifies blood sugar levels
(Boniface; Magistretti). The fresh or dried berries are useful
for a feverish liver and are useful as an adjunct in stomach
conditions. In Russia the berries are affectionately called by
the name chernika (black ones) and are used with the leaves in
tinctures for gastric colitis and other digestive problems.
- Allen. JAMA. 1927; 89:1577
- Borel J.P. et al. Fitoterapia (1993) 64:45-57
- Boniface, R. Et.al. Stud Org Chem 23:293-301, 1986
- Bottecchia D. et al. Fitoterapia (1987) 48:3
- Braquet P. et al. Agents Action (1984) 13:49-50
- Goodrich/Lawson/Lawson. Kashaya Pomo Plants. UCLA Press.
- Hutchens A. A Handbook of Native American Herbs. Shambala
- Magistretti M.J. et al. Arzneimittel Forschung (1988) 38:686
- Moore M. Medicinal Plants of the Pacific Northwest. Red Crane
- Sala D. et al. Minerva Oftalmologic (1979) 21:283
by Paul Bergner
- Bilberries were a common food among Native Americans in all part
of the continent where they grow (Erichsen-Brown). Some tribes
still harvest and dry them and use them as a winter food. The
berries are high in tannins (7%) (Weiss), and the resulting
astringent effects makes them effective for diarrhea and
dysentery. For this purpose they are taken as dried berries or as
unsweetened bilberry juice.
- The leaf (tincture or tea) has been used as an antidiabetic herb
for centuries. According to Weiss (Herbal Medicine) it
works through the action of its constituent glucokinins, which
have an insulin-like effect. He cautions that glucokinins are not
some superior "plant insulin" but act indirectly through a toxic
effect on the liver. He discourages long-term use.
The leaves of some species contain arbutin, and can be
used like Acrtolostaphylos uva ursi (bearberry) as a
diuretic and urinary antiseptic. The leaves of V.
myrtillus (bilberry) do not contain arbutin (Sticher)
- Most modern reseach and medicinal use has been on a highly
concentrated extract, with 25% anthocyanosides, with tannins
removed and using V Myrtillus, which does not contain arbutin
(see above). The berries normally have less than 1%
anthocyanosides (Kyermaten). The dose is from 180 to 800 mg a day
of the extract, in three doses. The vascular effects in the
accompanying article have been noted and documented
with this form. Effects have been noted in improving capillary
fragility, varicosities, retinal eye disorders, cataract,
menstrual disorders, peptic ulcers, and atherosclerosis (Werbach
- Erichsen-Brown, C. Medicinal and Other Uses of North
American Plants: A Historical Survey with Special
Reference to the Eastern Indian Tribes. 1979. Dover
- Kyerematen, G and Sandberg F 1986 Acta Pharm Sueca
- Sticher, O. et.al. 1979 Planta Medica. 35:253
- Weiss RF Herbal Medicine Beaconsfield Publishers
- Werbach, M and Murray M. Botanical Influences on
Illness 1994. Third Line Press. Tarzana, California.