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Parts used and where grown
A close relative of American blueberry, bilberry grows in northern
Europe, Canada, and the United States. The ripe berries are primarily
used in modern herbal extracts.
Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies)
The dried berries and leaves of bilberry have been recommended for a
wide variety of conditions, including scurvy, urinary tract infections,
kidney stones, and diabetes. Perhaps the most sound historical
application is the use of the dried berries to treat diarrhea. Modern
research of bilberry was partly based on its use by British World War
II pilots, who noticed that their night vision improved when they ate
bilberry jam prior to night bombing raids.
Anthocyanosides, the flavonoid complex in bilberries, speed the
regeneration of rhodopsin, the purple pigment that is used by the rods
in the eye for night vision. While earlier trials suggested that taking
bilberry could benefit people with night blindness, more recent trials
with healthy volunteers have found no effect of bilberry on night
vision. Preliminary human trials conducted in Europe show that bilberry
may prevent cataracts, and may even help to treat people with mild
retinopathies (such as macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy).
Anthocyanosides are potent antioxidants. They support normal formation
of connective tissue and strengthen capillaries in the body.
Anthocyanosides may also improve capillary and venous blood flow.
Bilberry may also prevent blood vessel thickening due to diabetes.
Bilberry protects cholesterol from oxidizing in test tubes. While
this action is thought to help prevent atherosclerosis, no human trials
have studied whether bilberry may be useful in the regard.
How much is usually taken?
Bilberry herbal extract in capsules or tablets standardized to provide
25% anthocyanosides are typically recommended at 240–600 mg per day.
Herbalists have traditionally recommended taking 1–2 ml two times per
day in tincture form, or 20–60 grams of the fruit daily.
Are there any side effects or interactions?
In recommended amounts, no side effects have been reported with bilberry extract.
At the time of writing, there were no well-known drug interactions with bilberry.