General info about Fruit
Bilberry is a name given to several species of low-growing shrubs in the genus Vaccinium (family Ericaceae) that bear tasty fruits. The species most often referred to is Vaccinium myrtillus L., also known as blaeberry, whortleberry, whinberry (or winberry), myrtle blueberry, fraughan, and probably other names regionally. They were called black-hearts in 19th century southern England, according to Thomas Hardy’s 1878 novel, The Return of the Native, (pg. 311, Oxford World’s Classics edition).The word bilberry is also sometimes used in the common names of other species of the genus, including Vaccinium uliginosum L. (bog bilberry, bog blueberry, bog whortleberry, bog huckleberry, northern bilberry), Vaccinium caespitosum Michx. (dwarf bilberry), Vaccinium deliciosum Piper (Cascade bilberry), Vaccinium membranaceum (mountain bilberry, black mountain huckleberry, black huckleberry, twin-leaved huckleberry), and Vaccinium ovalifolium (oval-leafed blueberry, oval-leaved bilberry, mountain blueberry, high-bush blueberry).
Bilberries are found in damp, acidic soils throughout the temperate and subarctic regions of the world. They are closely related to North American wild and cultivated blueberries and huckleberries in the genus Vaccinium. The easiest way to distinguish the bilberry is that it produces single or pairs of berries on the bush instead of clusters like the blueberry. Another way to distinguish them is that while blueberry fruit meat is light green, bilberry is red or purple. This way you can also distinguish the bilberry eater from the blueberry eater on his red fingers and lips. Bilberry is used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species - see list of Lepidoptera which feed on Vaccinium.
Bilberries are rarely cultivated but fruits are sometimes collected from wild plants growing on publicly accessible lands, notably in Fennoscandia, Scotland, Ireland and Poland. Notice that in Fennoscandia, it is an everyman’s right to collect bilberries, irrespective of land ownership. In Ireland the fruit is known as fraughan in English, from the Irish fraochán, and is traditionally gathered on the last Sunday in July, known as Fraughan Sunday.
How to choose a ripe and fresh Fruit
Blaeberry is a small perennial shrub in the heather family, Ericaceae. It grows to a height of up to 90 cm. in woodland, but is usually only 60 cm. tall, and on heaths and moorland it rarely exceeds 25 cm. It has green angular stems which grow from a rhizomatous root system, and individual stems can persist for up to 15 years. The leaves are 1-3 cm. in length, oval to elliptical in shape, and have serrate or toothed edges. Blaeberry is deciduous, and in the pinewoods the new leaves appear in late April or the beginning of May, and are shed in late September or October.
Like deciduous trees, the leaves undergo a colour change before being dropped, as chlorophyll production ceases and other pigments are revealed. These colours are a dull yellow-brown in many cases, but some blaeberry patches turn brilliant shades of orange and red - this is possibly due to the presence of specific nutrients in the soil at those sites.
Ways to prepare and serve the Fruit
Edible Parts: Fruit.
Edible Uses: Tea.
Fruit - raw or cooked. Sweet and very tasty, they make an excellent preserve, their small seeds making them suitable for jam. A slightly acid flavour when eaten raw. The fruit can be dried and used like currants. The fruit is up to 10mm in diameter. A tea is made from the leaves.
Health Benefits and Warnings of eating Fruit
Antiseptic; Astringent; Diuretic; Kidney; Ophthalmic; Tonic.
The dried leaves of bilberries are used in the treatment of a variety of complaints. These leaves should be harvested in early autumn, only green leaves being selected, and then dried in gentle heat. The leaves should not be used medicinally for more than 3 weeks at a time. A tea made from the dried leaves is strongly astringent, diuretic, tonic and an antiseptic for the urinary tract. It is also a remedy for diabetes if taken for a prolonged period. Another report says that the leaves can be helpful in pre-diabetic states but that they are not an alternative to conventional treatment. The leaves contain glucoquinones, which reduce the levels of sugar in the blood. A decoction of the leaves or bark is applied locally in the treatment of ulcers and in ulceration of the mouth and throat. A distilled water made from the leaves is an excellent eyewash for soothing inflamed or sore eyes. Whilst the fresh fruit has a slightly laxative effect upon the body, when dried it is astringent and is commonly used in the treatment of diarrhoea etc. The dried fruit is also antibacterial and a decoction is useful for treating diarrhoea in children. The skin of the fruits contains anthocyanin and is specific in the treatment of hemeralopia (day-blindness). The fruit is a rich source of anthocyanosides, which have been shown experimentally to dilate the blood vessels, this makes it a potentially valuable treatment for varicose veins, haemorrhoids and capillary fragility.
A green dye is obtained from the leaves and the fruit and is used to colour fabrics. A blue or black dye is obtained from the fruit. This can be used as an ink.
Species: V. myrtillus
Recipes made mainly with this Fruit
The fruits can be eaten fresh, but are more usually made into jams, fools, juices or pies. In France they are used as a base for liqueurs and are a popular flavouring for sorbets and other desserts. In Brittany they are often used as a flavouring for crêpes, and in the Vosges and the Massif Central bilberry tart (tarte aux myrtilles) is the most traditional dessert.