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Bilberry

Scientific names: Vaccinum myrtillus

Common names: Bilberries also are known as bog bilberries, blueberries (variety of), and whortleberries.

Efficacy-safety rating:

ÒÒ...Ethno or other evidence of efficacy.

Safety rating:

...No safety concerns despite wide use.

What is Bilberry?

Bilberry fruit originates from Northern and Central Europe and has been imported from parts of southeastern Europe. These black, coarsely wrinkled berries contain many small, shiny, brownish-red seeds. They have a somewhat caustic and sweet taste.

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What is it used for?

Traditional/Ethnobotanical uses

The historical uses of dried bilberry fruit include being a supportive treatment of acute, non-specific diarrhea when administered as a tea and serving as a topical decoction for the inflammation of the mucous membranes of the mouth and throat.

Vasoprotective/Anti-edema

During World War II, British Royal Air Force pilots ate bilberry preserves before night missions in order to improve their vision. After the war, studies confirmed the folk beliefs that bilberry extracts could improve visual acuity and lead to faster visual adjustments between light (eg, glare) and darkness. Some European physicians went on to recommend bilberry extracts for other eye complaints (eg, retinitis pigmentosa, diabetic retinopathy). Clinical studies, however, have not confirmed these therapeutic applications.

Dried bilberry fruit (as a tea) is used as an antidiarrhetic drug, especially in mild cases of enteritis. The fresh fruit does not have the antidiarrhetic effects. Therefore, it must be dried to obtain the tannins, which come about by the condensation of the tannin precursors during the drying process. It also is used as a topical treatment for mild inflammation of the mucous membranes of the mouth and throat. In addition to tannins, bilberry contains flavonoids and anthocyanins. Most clinical studies have concentrated on the fruit's anthocyanoside content.

Bilberry extracts may improve visual acuity and ability to adjust to changing light. Derivatives demonstrate vasoprotective, anti-edema, and gastroprotective effects. Research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of bilberry fruit for its vasoprotective or anti-edema effects.

What is the recommended dosage?

Typical bilberry products are standardized to 25% anthocyanoside content. One recent study administered 160 mg of the extract 3 times daily to improve night vision.

How safe is it?

Contraindications

Contraindications have not yet been identified.

Pregnancy/nursing

Generally recognized as safe or used as food. Avoid dosages above those found in food because safety and efficacy are unproven.

Interactions

None well documented.

Side Effects

No data.

Toxicities

The effects of ingesting large doses of bilberry are not known.

References

  1. Bilberry. Review of Natural Products. factsandcomparisons4.0 [online]. 2005. Available from Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. Accessed April 16, 2007.

Copyright © 2009 Wolters Kluwer Health

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