Vaccinium myrtillus

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Vaccinium myrtillus
203 Vaccinum myrtillus L.jpg
1891 illustration[1]
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Ericales
Family: Ericaceae
Genus: Vaccinium
Subgenus: Vaccinium subg. Vaccinium
Section: Vaccinium sect. Myrtillus
V. myrtillus
Binomial name
Vaccinium myrtillus
L. 1753
  • Myrtillus niger Gilib.
  • Myrtillus sylvaticus Drejer
  • Vaccinium oreophilum Rydb.
  • Vitis-idaea myrtillus (L.) Moench

Vaccinium myrtillus or European blueberry is a species of shrub with edible fruit of blue color, commonly called "bilberry", "blaeberry", "wimberry", "whortleberry".[3] It has much in common with the American blueberry (Vaccinium cyanococcus). It is more precisely called common bilberry or blue whortleberry, to distinguish it from other Vaccinium relatives. Regional names include blaeberry (Scotland), urts or hurts (Cornwall & Devon),[4] hurtleberry,[5] huckleberry, myrtleberry,[6] wimberry, whinberry, winberry,[7] blueberry,[8] and fraughan.[9] Chromosome count is 2n =24.[10]


The flowers are borne singly in leaf axils on 2–3 mm long pedicels. The corolla is pink and shaped like an urn. The leaves are finely toothed and prominently veined on the lower surface.

Vaccinium myrtillus is found natively in Continental Northern Europe, the British Isles and Ireland, Iceland and across the Caucasus into northern Asia. It is a non-native introduced species in Western Canada and the Western United States.[11] It occurs in the wild on heathlands and acidic soils. Its berry has been long consumed in the Old World.[12] It is related to the widely cultivated North American blueberry.


Bilberries above Merthyr Tydfil, on Mynydd Aberdâr


Vaccinium myrtillus has been used for nearly 1,000 years in traditional European medicine. Vaccinium myrtillus fruits have been used in traditional Austrian medicine internally (directly or as tea or liqueur) for treatment of disorders of the gastrointestinal tract and diabetes.[13] Herbal supplements of V. myrtillus (bilberry) on the market are used for cardiovascular conditions, diabetes, as vision aids, and to treat diarrhea and other conditions.[3] Researchers are interested in bilberry because of its high concentrations of anthocyanins, which may have various health benefits.[3] The United States' National Institutes of Health (NIH) cautions, "There’s not enough scientific evidence to support the use of bilberry for any health conditions."[3]

In cooking, the bilberry fruit is commonly used for the same purposes as the American blueberry, such as pies, cakes, jams, muffins, cookies, sauces, syrups, juices, and candies.[3]


In traditional medicine, bilberry leaf is used for different conditions, including diarrhea, scurvy, infections, burns, and diabetes.[3]

Confusion between European blueberries and American blueberries[edit]

Since many people refer to "blueberries" whether they mean the bilberry (European blueberry) Vaccinium myrtillus or the American blueberries Vaccinium corymbosum, there is confusion about the two closely similar fruits. One can distinguish the European species from their American counterpart by the following differences:

  • European blueberries have dark red, strongly fragrant flesh and red juice that turns blue in basic environments; American blueberries have white or translucent, mildly fragrant flesh
  • European blueberries grow on low bushes with solitary fruits, and are found wild in heathland in the Northern Hemisphere; American blueberries grow on large bushes with the fruit in bunches
  • European blueberries are usually harvested from wild plants, while the American counterpart is usually cultivated and are widely available commercially
  • cultivated American blueberries often come from hybrid cultivars, developed about 100 years ago by agricultural specialists, most prominently Elizabeth Coleman White, to meet growing consumer demand; the bushes grow taller and are easier to harvest
  • bilberry fruit will stain hands, teeth and tongue deep blue or purple while eating (it was used as a dye for food and clothes),[14] while American blueberries have flesh of a less intense color, and are thus less staining
  • when cooked as a dessert, European blueberries have a much stronger, more tart flavor and a rougher texture than American blueberries

Adding to the confusion is the fact there are also wild American blueberry varieties, sold in stores mainly in the US and Canada. These are uncommon outside of North America. Even more confusion is due to the huckleberry name, which originates from English dialectal names 'hurtleberry' and 'whortleberry' for the bilberry. In the Scandinavian languages Vaccinium myrtillus is called blåbär (or blåbær), which literally means blueberry. Therefore many Scandinavians will call bilberry blueberry when speaking English. This adds to the confusion.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ illustration by Amédée Masclef, published in Atlas des plantes de France. 1891
  2. ^ The Plant List, Vaccinium myrtillus L.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Bilberry : Science and Safety | NCCIH". Retrieved 2018-03-19.
  4. ^ Phillipps, K. C. (1993). A Glossary of the Cornish Dialect. Padstow: Tabb House. p. 57. ISBN 0907018912.
  5. ^ "Vaccinium myrtillus". Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Retrieved 12 December 2017. citing Wiersema, J. H. & B. León (1999), World economic plants: a standard reference, and Huxley, A., ed. (1992), The new Royal Horticultural Society dictionary of gardening
  6. ^ "Bilberry, Blaeberry, Whortleberry, Whinberry, Windberry, Myrtle Berry, Vaccinium myrtillus". Wild Food UK. Retrieved 2020-07-31.
  7. ^ Henley, Jon. Bilberries: the true taste of northern England, The Guardian, Monday 9 June 2008
  8. ^ Grigson, Geoffrey (1975). The Englishman's Flora. Paladin. p. 281. ISBN 0586082093.
  9. ^ "Fraughan is an anglicisation of the Irish word Fraochán (or heather fruit, as the plant is often found growing with heather)". té
  10. ^ Nestby, Rolf; Percival, D.; Martinussen, Inger S.; Opstad, Nina; Rohloff, Jens (2017-08-08). "The European Blueberry ( Vaccinium myrtillus L . ) and the Potential for Cultivation . A Review". Semantic Scholar. S2CID 52997599. Retrieved 2020-05-08.
  11. ^ "Vaccinium myrtillus - L." Plants for a Future. Retrieved 27 April 2019.
  12. ^ "The bilberry is an Old World equivalent of North American blueberry". Retrieved 2013-11-06.
  13. ^ Vogl S, Picker P, Mihaly-Bison J, Fakhrudin N, Atanasov AG, Heiss EH, Wawrosch C, Reznicek G, Dirsch VM, Saukel J, Kopp B (2013-03-25). "Ethnopharmacological in vitro studies on Austria's folk medicine--an unexplored lore in vitro anti-inflammatory activities of 71 Austrian traditional herbal drugs". J Ethnopharmacol. 149 (3): 750–71. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2013.06.007. PMC 3791396. PMID 23770053.
  14. ^ Make Traditional Dyes - Bilberry Dye

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]