Bilberry is any of several species of low-growing shrubs in the genus Vaccinium (family Ericaceae), bearing edible berries. The species most often referred to is Vaccinium myrtillus L., but there are several other closely related species.
Food features: Bilberry (especially Vaccinium myrtillus) is known by a very wide range of local names. As well as "bilberry", these include blaeberry, whortleberry, (ground) hurts, whinberry, winberry, wimberry, myrtle blueberry and fraughan. The berries were called black-hearts in 19th century south-western England, according to Thomas Hardy's 1878 novel, The Return of the Native. In several other European languages its name translates as "blueberry", and this may cause confusion with the related plants more usually known as "blueberry" in English – those in section Oxycoccus of the Vaccinium genus.
Place of origin: Bilberries are extremely difficult to grow and are thus seldom cultivated. Fruits are mostly collected from wild plants growing on publicly accessible lands, notably Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, parts of England, Alpine countries, Carpathian Mountains in Ukraine, Belarus, Romania, Bulgaria, Poland and northern parts of Turkey and Russia. Note that in Austria, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland, it is an everyman's right to collect bilberries, irrespective of land ownership, with the exception of private gardens.
Dietotherapy function: Although the effect of bilberry on night vision is controversial, laboratory studies have provided preliminary evidence that bilberry consumption may inhibit or reverse eye disorders such as macular degeneration. As a deep purple fruit, bilberries contain anthocyanin pigments. In folk medicine, bilberry leaves were used to treat gastrointestinal ailments, applied topically, or made into infusions. Bilberries are also used as a tonic to prevent some infections and skin diseases.