Vaccinium myrtillus, Ericaceae
Bilberry, popular for its tasty fruit, is a member of the Ericaceae family. The European species Vaccinium myrtillus is known as bilberry, whereas the North American variety, called Vaccinium corymbosum, is known as blueberry. Bilberries and blueberries populate woodlands of the northern hemisphere, particularly in siliceous soils of mountainous regions. The plant is a deciduous, dwarf shrub with alternate, ovate leaves and sharp-edged, green branches. The flowers are solitary and axillary, greenish in color yet tinged with a pale pink. The fruit is a multiseeded, globular berry with a frosted, bluish-black color and a purple pulp when ripened.
Bilberries are abundant in water content (up to 90%) as well as sugars and organic acids. In Europe, bilberries are dried and taken as a remedy for diarrhea. Fresh berries are not used for this purpose. The tannins in bilberry are attributed to be the constituents responsible for the anti-diarrheal effect, as well as pectin which has adsorbent properties. Fresh and dried berries can be used to make a water-soluble extract concentrated in anthocyanosides, similar to flavonoids , which are glycosides containing the sugars glucose, galactose and arabinose and the aglycones cyanidin, peonidin, delphinidin, malvidin, and perudin. Flavonoids such as hyperin and quercitrin are also present, as well as catechin and epicatechin and proanthocyanidins, such as procyanidins B-1 and B-4. Bilberries also contain iridoid including asperuloside and monotropein. Bilberry extracts have therapeutic indications identical to those of the blueberry. The anthocyanins have been shown to possess vascular protective and antiedemic activity. In vitro and in vivo studies have demonstrated that bilberry anthocyanidins inhibit collagen-induced and ADP-induced platelet aggregation and stimulate prostacyclin activity of vascular walls. They also have anti-oxidant, free-radical scavenging actions and inhibit cAMP phosphodiesterase. Anthocyanins are particularly helpful for several degenerative visual disorders by facilitating the regeneration of rhodopsin, which improves vision in poor light. Continual strain of the eyes is a familiar complaint for many people, exacerbated by insufficient light (particularly natural light), flickering fluorescent lights, and computer screens. This eye strain is thought to contribute to near-sightedness, the most common visual defect. Free radical excess is also a serious problem in the eyes; it can contribute to glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration.
Bilberry has become a popular remedy for benefiting visual acuity and for providing protection against macular degeneration, glaucoma, and cataracts. In humans, bilberry has also provided favorable results in treating vascular disorders, including venous disorders and cutaneous capillary fragility. Many diabetics have used bilberry to treat secondary capillary disorders as well as visual problems. Other uses of bilberries include treating cystitis, enteritis and spasmodic colitis, possibly due to its ability to inhibit the adhesion of E. coli in the bladder and intestine. Bilberry has tradionally been used for mild inflammation of the mucous membranes of the mouth and throat, including scurvy and gingivitis. There are no side effects, health hazards or known drug interactions involving bilberries. The leaf of bilberry is also used in traditional medicine, primarily for prevention and treatment of diabetes mellitus, complaints of the gastro-intestinal , urinary tract as well as for the treatment of diarrhea due to the astringency of its tannin content.