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Often called European blueberry, bilberry is closely related to American blueberry, cranberry, and huckleberry. Its meat is creamy white instead of purple, but it is traditionally used, like blueberries, in the preparation of jams, pies, cobblers, and cakes.
Bilberry fruit also has a long medicinal history. In the twelfth century, Abbess Hildegard of Bingen wrote of bilberry's usefulness for inducing menstruation. Over subsequent centuries, the list of uses for bilberry grew to include a bewildering variety of possibilities, from bladder stones to typhoid fever.
The modern use of bilberry dates back to World War II, when British Royal Air Force pilots reported that a good dose of bilberry jam just prior to a mission improved their night vision , often dramatically. Subsequent investigation showed that bilberry contains biologically active substances known as anthocyanosides. Some evidence suggests that anthocyanosides may benefit the retina, as well as strengthen the walls of blood vessels, reduce inflammation, and stabilize tissues containing collagen (such as tendons, ligaments, and cartilage). 1 2 3 4 5 6 However, neither anecdote nor basic scientific evidence of this type can prove a treatment effective. Only double-blind, placebo-controlled studies can do that. (For more information, see the article Why Does This Database...
Bilberry fruit is a food and, as such, is quite safe. Enormous quantities have been administered to rats without toxic effects. 7 One study of 2,295 people given bilberry extract found a 4% incidence of side effects such as mild digestive distress, skin rashes, and drowsiness. 8 Although safety in pregnancy has not been proven, clinical trials have enrolled pregnant women. 9 Safety in young children, nursing women, or those with severe liver or kidney disease is not known. **There are no known drug interactions. Bilberry does not appear to interfere with blood clotting. 10 Little is known about the safety of bilberry leaf. Based on animal evidence that it can reduce blood sugar levels in people with diabetes, it is possible that use of bilberry leaf by...