Bilberry: Herbal Remedies

©2007 Publications International, Ltd. Bilberries contain the highest level of antioxidants of any berry.

Though you may not recognize the name, you are already familiar with the Vaccinium genus of herbs. It includes numerous plants that bear small, round, dark blue or dark purple edible berries. Blueberries, huckleberries, and bilberries are three of more than 100 species of the Vaccinium genus found throughout the United States and Europe in woodlands, forests, and moorlands.

If you eat whortleberries and cream in England, you're getting a healthy dose of antioxidant-rich bilberries. Bilberries and huckleberries are popular food for hikers and forest birds and animals. The berries also make good dyes and very tasty jellies and jams, and are often used in several herbal remedies. These berries freeze quite well, so you can harvest them in the summer and store them for year-round consumption.

Uses of Bilberry

Both the leaves and the ripe fruit of the bilberry and related berry species have long been a folk remedy for treating diabetes. Traditionally, people used the leaves to control blood sugar. While the leaves can lower blood sugar, they do so by impairing a normal process in the liver. For this reason, use of the leaves is not recommended for long-term treatment.

The berry, on the other hand, is recommended for people with diabetes. The berries do not lower blood sugar, but their constituents may help improve the strength and integrity of blood vessels and reduce damage to these vessels associated with diabetes and other diseases, such as atherosclerosis (calcium and fat deposits in arteries). The berries contain flavonoids, compounds found in the pigment of many plants. The blue-purple pigments typical of this family are due to the flavonoid anthocyanin.

With their potent antioxidant activity anthocyanins protect body tissues, particularly blood vessels, from oxidizing agents circulating in the blood. In fact, bilberries contain the highest antioxidant level, bite for bite, of any berry! In the same way that pipes rust as a result of an attack by chemicals, various chemicals in our environment -- pollutants, smoke, and chemicals in food -- can bind to and oxidize blood vessels. Two common complications of diabetes, diabetic eye disease (retinopathy) and kidney disease (nephropathy), often begin when the tiny capillaries of these organs are injured by the presence of excessive sugar. Antioxidants allow these harmful oxidizing agents to bind to them instead of to body cells, preventing the agents from causing permanent damage to the lining of blood vessels.

Bilberry extracts also may reduce the tingling sensations in the extremities associated with diabetes. Several studies have shown that bilberry extracts stimulate blood vessels to release a substance that helps dilate (expand) veins and arteries. Bilberries help keep platelets from clumping together, which, in turn, thins the blood, prevents clotting, and improves circulation.

Bilberry preparations seem particularly useful in treating eye conditions, so in addition to diabetic retinopathy, they also are used to treat cataracts, night blindness, and degeneration of the macula, the spot in the back of the eye that enables sharp focusing.

In the next section, you will learn how to prepare bilberry for herbal remedies and some of the potentially dangerous side effects.

To learn more about treating common medical conditions at home, try the following links:

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.Before engaging in any complementary medical technique, including the use of natural or herbal remedies, you should be aware that many of these techniques have not been evaluated in scientific studies.   Use of these remedies in connection with over the counter or prescription medications can cause severe adverse reactions. Often, only limited information is available about their safety and effectiveness. Each state and each discipline has its own rules about whether practitioners are required to be professionally licensed. If you plan to visit a practitioner, it is recommended that you choose one who is licensed by a recognized national organization and who abides by the organization's standards. It is always best to speak with your primary health care provider before starting any new therapeutic technique.