Like their Cranberry cousins, bilberries have both culinary and medicinal uses. Bilberries grow in Scandinavia and elsewhere in Europe, where they are eaten fresh or used to make jam, pies, liqueurs and sorbets. They are difficult to grow in warmer climates and consequently the fresh fruit are rarely found in the Southern hemisphere.
Bilberry has a long history of use as an eye and vision tonic, and was used by British fighter pilots in World War II to improve their night vision.
It works by supporting the functioning of the retina and enhancing the regeneration of rhodopsin (also known as visual purple). This light-sensitive pigment is found in the rods of the retina, where it is involved in helping the eyes to adapt to different light conditions. This function makes bilberry ideal for use when you're experiencing EYE STRAIN from exposure to glare, driving long distances, reading in poor light, or concentrating intensely on a computer screen.
Additionally, bilberries contain antioxidant compounds called anthocyanidins that help protect the integrity of the capillaries.
In the eyes, preliminary research suggests that the anthocyanidins may help protect the eyes from conditions associated with FREE RADICAL DAMAGE, such as MACULAR DEGENERATION, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and cataracts. For this purpose, bilberry is usually taken with nutrients that help reduce the risk of MACULAR DEGENERATION, such as the antioxidants vitamin C, vitamin E, copper, zinc and lutein (often derived from the herb Tagetes erecta), and anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats from fish oil.
The blood vessel-supporting properties of bilberry also find application elsewhere in the body, and are indicated for the treatment of a wide range of CIRCULATORY PROBLEMS, including capillary fragility, VARICOSE VEINS, haemorrhoids, bleeding gums, and WOUNDS that are slow to heal. In this context, bilberry is often taken with other herbs that have stimulating effects on the circulatory system, such as Ginkgo, Grape seed, Gotu kola, Ginger, cayenne and hawthorn.
For those who experience FATIGUE or memory problems, or who want to simultaneously support their eye health and their brain function, bilberry is sometimes taken with Eyebright (traditionally used to relieve red, watery eye conditions), Ginkgo (a highly regarded memory tonic), Withania and Siberian ginseng (renowned for their STRESS-relieving and energy-promoting effects).
- Do not take bilberry if you are taking anticoagulant (blood-thinning) medications
- Macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and cataracts are serious conditions requiring medical management. If you suffer from any of these conditions, do not take bilberry without prior consultation with your doctor
- Consult your medical practitioner prior to taking herbs during pregnancy or breastfeeding