The bilberry is a short, perennial shrub found in the American Rocky Mountains, Europe, Scandinavia, Canada, Russia, and western Asia. It grows to about 16 inches in height and favors very acidic, nutrient-poor soils. The bilberry features oval, pointed leaves, and from March to June it blooms with small, pink or white flowers.
The North American variety of bilberry is closely related to both the blueberry and huckleberry plant and in fact is sometimes referred to as blueberry. As with other plants belonging to the same family (vaccinium), the bilberry bears edible fruit very similar to the American blueberry.
There are several differences between the two plants, however. The bilberry produces a single berry, or sometimes a pair, while the blueberry grows its fruit in clusters. Also, the bilberry fruit is smaller with a fuller taste. The fruit of the bilberry is very dark in color almost black with a slight tint of purple. The pulp is red or purple, and is known for heavily staining the fingers of anyone eating the berries raw.
The bilberry is extremely difficult to grow, so the plant is seldom cultivated. Also, the fruit is softer and juicier than a blueberry which makes it difficult to pick and transport. As a result, fresh bilberries can cost up to $35 a pound in Europe.
- The bilberry contains more than 15 different naturally-occurring anthocyanosides, which are flavonoids that contain beneficial properties.
- Bilberry possesses antioxidant properties that help fight cell-damaging free radicals in the body.
- Bilberry has been traditionally used for eye health.
- Bilberry is also known as European blueberry.
- The active ingredients in bilberry include tannins, sugars, fruit acids, glycosides, arbutin, pectins, vitamins (thiamin plus Vitamins A and C), and minerals (iron, manganese, phosphorus, zinc, magnesium, potassium, and selenium).
- Bilberry is a source of flavonoid compounds known as anthocyanosides which are beneficial antioxidants which fight free radicals.
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