Botanical name: Vaccinium myrtillus
Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies)
The dried berries and leaves of bilberry have been recommended for a wide variety of conditions, including scurvy, urinary tract infections, kidney stones, and diabetes.
Perhaps the most sound historical application is the use of the dried berries to treat diarrhea. Modern research of bilberry was partly based on its use by British World War II pilots, who noticed that their night vision improved when they ate bilberry jam prior to night bombing raids.1
Anthocyanosides, the flavonoid complex in bilberries, speed the regeneration of rhodopsin, the purple pigment that is used by the rods in the eye for night vision.2
Preliminary human trials conducted in Europe show that bilberry may prevent cataracts,3 and may even help to treat people with mild retinopathies (such as macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy).
Anthocyanosides are potent antioxidants. They support normal formation of connective tissue and strengthen capillaries in the body.
Anthocyanosides may also improve capillary and venous blood flow. Bilberry may also prevent blood vessel thickening due to diabetes.
Bilberry protects cholesterol from oxidizing in test tubes. While this action is thought to help prevent atherosclerosis, no human trials have studied whether bilberry may be useful in this regard.
Are there any side effects or interactions?
In recommended amounts, no side effects have been reported with bilberry extract. At the time of writing, there were no well-known drug interactions with bilberry..
- Brown DJ. Herbal Prescriptions for Health and Healing. Roseville, CA: Prima Health, 2000, 47–54.
- Sala D, Rolando M, Rossi PL, et al. Effect of anthocyanosides on visual performance at low illumination. Minerva Oftalmol 1979;21:283–5.
- Salvayre R, Braquet P, Perruchot T, DousteBlazy L. Comparison of the scavenger effect of bilberry anthocyanosides with various flavonoids. Proceed Intl Bioflavonoids Symposium, Munich, 1981, 437–42.