Bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillus) are a more classic Lughnasadh gift - in more ways than one. It’s easy to identify blaeberries (as we call them in Scotland) as after their flowers are pollinated by the bilberry bumblebee (Bombus monticola) they produce berries that look exactly like miniature blueberries! The taste is much more concentrated, no watery flavours here. So now the race is on to get your fill before the rabbits, the deer and even stoats, weasels and foxes, get them. Everyone is after a shot of potent antioxidants!
If you manage to collect enough you can make bilberry pie or bilberry jam but where they really come into their own is as a medicine. Well it’s pretty obvious that, like all berries, it’s going to be high in vitamin C and therefore good for the immune system and warding off coughs and colds. However, they are so much more than just an alternative to blackcurrants or elderberries.
Bilberries are incredibly high in healthy antioxidants called anthocyanins and anthocyanidins - four times more than blueberries. They are incredible good for the eyes helping to prevent age-related macular degeneration and reverse damage done by the effects of light. Some thirty different clinical trials have been done on their effect on night vision and traditionally they were used to support treatments for glaucoma and cataracts. They also help to protect the brain and improve memory; help to reverse metabolic syndrome eg diabetes and lower blood glucose; support gastrointestinal by strengthening gut lining, increasing gut mucus and healing ulcers; and cardiovascular health by strengthening capillary walls and reducing angina.
Importantly, they help to prevent and reverse a process called angiogenesis - the abnormal proliferation of blood vessel that often accompanies cancer tumours. They also protect the kidneys from the effects of some environmental pollutants. They interact with collagen metabolism and help to prevent the degradation of collagen, so I often recommend it to my Lyme arthritis patients. In fact, there is little in the area of health improvements that the bilberry leaves untouched.
The plant’s leaves also have medicinal properties and contain anthocyanosides, quercetin, catechins, iridoids, acids and tannins. They are used as an astringent, antimicrobial in acne skin cleansers and creams. The tannins are antibacterial and sometimes used to treat intestinal infections too, including Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus. The late herbalist Michael Moore used the leaf tea as a disinfectant for cystitis and leaf teas to lower blood sugar in diabetes were widely used in folk medicine.
Finally, if you‘d like to incorporate ritual in your life to mark this symbolic turning point of the year, then try drying and powdering the fruit or the leaves of bilberry. A little bilberry powder sprinkled around the edges of doors and windows will keep witches away!
Or you can put the leaves into amulets or medicine pouches to carry with you to protect you from hexes and harm. Burning bilberry leaves as incense is also believed to help dispel negativity and attract benevolence and wealth.
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***Content of this blog/website is for information purpose only. It is not intended to substitute for legal or medical advice, or medical treatment or diagnosis. Consult your health care provider if you are experiencing any symptoms and before using any herbal product or beginning a new health regimen. When wildcrafting or foraging for plants, do so ethically; be accompanied by an expert; and always have absolute certainty of plant identification before using or consuming any herbs. by using any or all of this information, you do so at your own risk. No warranties are expressed or implied. Any application of the material provided is at the reader’s discretion and is his or her sole responsibility.