Bilberry, a close relative of blueberry, has a long history of medicinal use. The dried fruit has been popular for the symptomatic treatment of diarrhea, for topical relief of minor mucus membrane inflammation, and for a variety of eye disorders, including poor night vision, eyestrain, and myopia.
Bilberry fruit and its extracts contain a number of biologically active components, including a class of compounds called anthocyanosides. These have been the focus of recent research in Europe.
Bilberry extract has been evaluated for efficacy as an antioxidant, mucostimulant, hypoglycemic, anti-inflammatory, "vasoprotectant," and lipid-lowering agent. Although pre-clinical studies have been promising, human data are limited and largely of poor quality. At this time, there is not sufficient evidence in support of (or against) the use of bilberry for most indications. Notably, the evidence suggests a lack of benefit of bilberry for the improvement of night vision.
Bilberry is commonly used to make jams, pies, cobblers, syrups, and alcoholic/non-alcoholic beverages. Fruit extracts are used as a coloring agent in wines.
Airelle, anthocyanins, Bickbeere (German), bilberry leaf, black whortle, Blaubeere (Dutch), blaubessen, bleaberry, blueberry, bogberry, bog bilberry, burren myrtle, cranberry, dwarf bilberry, dyeberry, Ericaceae (family), European blueberry, Heidelbeere (Dutch), Heidelbeereblatter, heidelberry, huckleberry, hurtleberry, lingonberry, lowbush blueberry, Mirtillo nero (Italian), Myrtilli folium, Myrtilli fructus, Myrtilus niger Gilib., Optiberry, resveratrol, sambubiosides, trackleberry, Vaccinium angulosum Dulac, Vaccinium montanum Salibs., Vaccinium myrtillus anthocyanoside extract, VMA extract, VME, whortleberry, wineberry.
These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
Atherosclerosis ("hardening" of the arteries), peripheral vascular disease
Bilberry has sometimes been used traditionally to treat heart disease and atherosclerosis. There is some laboratory research in this area, but there is no clear information in humans.
Bilberry extract has been used for a number of eye problems, including the prevention of cataract worsening. At this time, there is limited scientific information in this area.
Chronic venous insufficiency
Chronic venous insufficiency is a condition that is more commonly diagnosed in Europe than in the United States, and may include leg swelling, varicose veins, leg pain, itching, and skin ulcers. A standardized extract of bilberry called
Bilberry has been used traditionally in the treatment of diabetes, and animal research suggests that bilberry leaf extract can lower blood sugar levels. Human research is needed in this area before a recommendation can be made.
Bilberry is used traditionally to treat diarrhea, but there is no reliable research in this area.
Fibrocystic breast disease
There is limited research suggesting a possible benefit of bilberry in the treatment of fibrocystic disease of the breast. More study is needed before a recommendation can be made.
Painful menstruation (dysmenorrhea)
Preliminary evidence suggests that bilberry may be helpful for the relief of menstrual pain, although more research is necessary before a firm conclusion can be drawn.
Based on animal research and several small human studies, bilberry may be useful in the treatment of retinopathy in patients with diabetes or high blood pressure. However, this research is early, and it is still unclear if bilberry is beneficial for this condition.
Stomach ulcers (peptic ulcer disease)
Bilberry extract has been suggested as a treatment to help stomach ulcer healing. There is some support for this use from laboratory and animal studies, but there is no reliable human evidence in this area.
Traditional use and several unclear studies from the 1960s and 1970s suggest possible benefits of bilberry on night vision. However, more recent well-designed studies report no benefits. Based on this evidence, it does not appear that bilberry is helpful for improving night vision.