Image courtesy of Abreget47j   CC BY-SA 3.0 license. Ripe fruits and foliage.


This species belongs to the family of plants known as the Ericaceae which includes the heathers. They are placed in the genus Vaccinium and given the specific name of myrtillus. Members of this genus, are in the main,  Eurasian species of low growing shrubs.

They have much in common with the North American blueberry, to which they are closely related . They are also known by local common names such as the whortleberry and 'blea-berry'. among many others. The name bilberry in times gone by bulberry derives from the Danish bollebar meaning dark berry  There is also a variety with white berries.

Bilberry growing in Germany

Courtesy of Mars 2002    CC BY-SA 3.0 license.Vaccinium-myrtillus-0175.jpg


This species is a small branched shrub with angular wiry branches seldom growing more than a foot tall {30 cm}. They produce globular wax-like flowers followed by black berries, which are covered when ripe by a delicate grey bloom. Hence its name in Scotland of  blea berry ,which derives from an old Norse word blea meaning livid or bluish.

The leaves are very similar to those produced by the Myrtle hence the specific name myrtillus. They are leathery, a rosy colour at first then turning a yellow-green and finally in autumn red when they look very ornamental.

The berries are globular with a flat top just larger than a blackcurrant fruit When eaten raw they have a slightly acid flavour. 

In the UK they flourish  on heath and mountainous districts and grow better in the north and west than in the south and east of England. On the Surrey hills , they are abundant stretching for miles and are known locally as 'Hurts'.

The waxy flowers 

Image courtesy of Frank Vincentz CC BY -SA 3.0 license.Vaccinium myrtillus1 ies.jpg

 Culinary uses.

The fruits which have  an acrid taste in their fresh state are transformed when boiled and with sugar make an excellent preserve. Another old recipe recommends that when stewed with a little sugar and lemon peel in an open tart " bilberries make a very enjoyable dish". It was also said that because they have a very rich juice only half a pound of sugar to one pound of berries was sufficient to make jam.

In her book  'A Modern Herbal' ,1937, Mrs Grieves leaves us with this recipe for Bilberry Jam. 

Put three pounds of clean ,fresh fruit  in a preserving pan with one and a half pounds of sugar and about one cup of water and bring to the boil. Boil rapidly for forty minutes. { Apple juice made from windfalls and peelings, instead of the water, improves the jam}. To make apple juice, cover the apples with water, stew down, and strain the juice through, thick muslin. Blackberries may also be added to the mixture. 

If the jam is to be kept for long  it must be bottled hot in screw-top jars, or, if tied down in the ordinary way more sugar must be added. 


Courtesy of Yakudza  CC BY-SA 3.0 license.File:Blaeberry.jpeg

Medicinal uses.

The fruits are considered to be astringent and were used to counter the affects of diarrhoea and dysentery, in the form of syrup. The fruits were also used against scurvy and urinary complaints, and when bruised with the roots  and steeped in gin they had diuretic properties which was said to be good against dropsy and gravel.

A decoction of the leaves or bark of the root  was used as a local application to ulcers and in ulceration of the mouth and throat. 

Tea made from the fruits.

Courtesy of Schekinov Alexey Victorovich CC BY-SA 3.0 license.Mors (ru. Морс - прохладительный негазированный напиток).JPG

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