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Vaccinium myrtillus is a species of shrub with edible fruit of blue color, commonly called “bilberry”, “whortleberry” or “European blueberry”[1]. It has much in common with the American blueberry (Vaccinium cyanococcus). It is more precisely called Common Bilberry or Blue Whortleberry, to distinguish it from other Vaccinium relatives. Regional names include blaeberry, hurtleberry[2], Huckleberry and fraughan.[citation needed]


Vaccinium myrtillus is found natively in Europe, northern Asia, Greenland, Western Canada, and the Western United States.[3] It occurs in the wild on heathlands and acidic soils. Its berry has been long consumed in the Old World.[4] It is one of the wild origins and predecessors of the North American blueberry.



Vaccinium myrtillus has been used for nearly 1,000 years in traditional European medicine. Herbal supplements of V. myrtillus (bilberry) on the market are used for circulatory problems, as vision aids, and to treat diarrhea and other conditions.[1][5]

In cooking, the bilberry fruit is commonly used for the same purposes as the American blueberry: pies, cakes, jams, muffins, cookies, sauces, syrups, juices, candies and so on.[1][6] Since bilberries are more fragrant, and have more concentrated flavor and vitamins (like all more natural wild fruit varieties), they are especially well suited for making cough syrups and bilberry wine.[7]


In traditional medicine, Bilberry leaf is used for different conditions, including diabetes.[1] The National Institutes of Health rates it as “possibly effective for problems with the retina of the eye in people with diabetes or high blood pressure”.[8]

Confusion between bilberries and American blueberries

Since most people in the world refer to “blueberries”, no matter if they mean the European blueberry Vaccinium myrtillus or the American blueberries, there is a lot of confusion about the two nearly identical fruit worldwide. One can distinguish bilberries or European blueberries from their American counterpart by the following differences: bilberries have dark blue, strongly fragrant flesh, while American blueberries have white or translucent, mildly fragrant flesh; the bilberries grow as single fruit on low bushes, usually wild in woods of the Northern Hemisphere, but American blueberries grow in a large bush with several fruit at once; bilberries are generally wild plants while American blueberries can be cultivated. Cultivated American blueberries often come from hybrid cultivars, developed about 100 years ago by agricultural specialists, most prominently by Elizabeth Coleman White, to meet growing consumer demand, since they are bigger, the bushes grow taller, and are easier to harvest. Bilberry fruit will stain hands, teeth and tongue deep blue or purple while eating; it was used as a dye for food and clothes[9]. American blueberries of section Cyanococcus have white flesh, thus are less staining.

Adding to the confusion is the fact there are also wild American varieties, sold in stores mainly in the USA and Canada. Those are uncommon outside of Northern America, where either American or the European blueberries are prevalent.

Written on June 13th, 2012 , Fruits Tags:

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