Botanical Name: Vaccinium myrtillus
Common Name: Bilberry, European Blueberry
Description of Bilberry Plant/Habitat:
Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) is a shrubby perennial plant one to two feet in height and can be found in the mountains and forests of Europe and the northern United States. Its branches contain alternating, elliptical, bright green leaves and its flowers are reddish to pink and bell-shaped. The fruit is blue-black or purple.
Berry and leaf
Key Active Components:
Anthocyanins (anthocyanoside flavonoids), flavonoids, tannins, ursolic acid, resveratrol, vitamin C, pectin
- The anthocyanins (anthocyanoside flavonoids) are considered the most important of the pharmacologically active components. They are strong antioxidants responsible for stabilizing collagen fibers, promoting collagen biosynthesis, decreasing capillary permeability and fragility and inhibiting platelet aggregation.
- Flavonoids, particularly quercetin and its derivatives, which are found in bilberry are potent inhibitors of aldose reductase.
- Diabetic cataracts are caused by an elevation of polyols within the lens of the eye catalyzed by the enzyme aldose reductase.
- The anthocyanins inhibit sorbitol accumulation in the lens of the eye
Sweet, tart, astringing, cooling, drying
Summary of Actions:
Primary Actions: astringent, circulatory tonic, hypoglycemic, antioxidant
- Historically berries have been used in Europe as a food source, to prevent scurvy and in the treatment of urinary tract infections, diarrhea and dysentery.
- In folk medicine use of the leaves for poultices and teas for digestive anti-inflammatory effects was common.
- Bilberries are mentioned in a popular story of World War II RAF pilots consuming bilberry jam to sharpen vision for night missions.
- The berries strengthen collagen cross linking and increase the integrity of the vascular system. They are also antioxidant leading to decreased damage to the vascular system generated by free radicals.
- The berries reduce damage to the vascular supply to the eyes and are utilized to treat cataracts, diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration.
- Significant improvements have been seen with both diabetic retinopathy and hypertensive retinopathy in patients supplemented with Vaccinium extracts. (Study examined patients taking 115 mg anthocyanins/d X 1 month).
- Use the berries for patients with impaired microcirculation to periphery resulting in stasis ulcers, peripheral vascular insufficiency, intermittent claudication.
- The leaves have a long history of use to decrease blood sugar levels in diabetic patients.
- Decreases inflammatory mediators in vessels of diabetic patients
- Diabetic retinopathy
- Vascular issues/symptoms arising from vascular issues
- No known safety issues for the bilberry fruit. If diabetic, watch sugar content if eating whole fruit or solid extract, though research has shown that eating bilberries actually lowers your risk of diabetes. The leaves may be unsafe if eaten in large quantities for extended periods of time.
Preparation and Dosage:
Infusion: 1 tbsp/cup water twice per day to three times per day
Tincture (1:5): 3-5 ml three times per day
Fluid Extract (1:1): 1-3 ml three times per day
Solid Extract (5:1): ¼–½ tsp – twice per day to three times per day
Standardized Extract: 25-36% anthocyanins; 120-240 mg twice per day
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