Botanical Name: Vaccinium myrtillus
Known Hazards: The Plant has high tannin content and if eaten to excess can affect digestion. Avoid eating if taking anti-coagulating medication.
Could be confused with: Other Closely Related species in the Vaccinium Genus, Vaccinium uliginosum, Vaccinium cespitosum, Vaccinium deliciosum, Vaccinium membranaceum, Vaccinium ovalifolium all of which are similarly edible.
Range and Distribution: The UK, Europe, Iceland to Spain, Northern Asia,
Woodlands, Heaths and Moors, enjoying acidic soil and damp conditions
Bilberries are a hairless low growing undershrub, covering large areas of land; they grow to a maximum height of 50cm, but can look taller when growing on sharply angled ground.
The flowers, appearing in clusters April-June, are globular or urn shaped, greenish turning pink with a length and width of 5-6mm.
The bright green leaves are oval shaped, often with a wavy margin and are finely toothed.
The purple to black fruit ripens from August through to September, growing within the whole shrub, making them more difficult to pick. They’re globular shaped 5-6mm in length and width with an indented tip.
Folklore, tall tales, and not so folklore:
The people of Cheshire are said to eat the berries picked on Lammas with cream and milk for good luck.
Leaves: green tea, fermented tea, dried tea, wine, smoking foods
Flower clusters: tea, syrup, salads, dessert decoration, candied
Berries: Jam, Jelly, Tea, Ice cream, Sorbet, Syrup, Pies, Pastries, Muffins, Cakes, Fruit Leather, wine
The Leaves can be taken in tea for a prolonged period of time to aid diabetes as it reduces blood sugar levels. The berries are high in anthocyanins which can dilate blood vessel, helping lower blood pressure and have been recorded as promoting good eye sight.
The easiest way I’ve found of collecting these berries is with a fruit picker, which also picks a lot of leaves with it. Then taking the whole lot and placing it on a table and blowing over it with a hair dryer blowing cold – the leaves get blown away and the berries stay on the table.