Vaccinium myrtillus

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

Vaccinium myrtillus is a species of shrub with edible fruit of blue color, commonly called "bilberry", "whortleberry" or European blueberry.[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, hurtleberry,[4] huckleberry, winberry[5] and fraughan.[6]


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 Europe, northern Asia, Greenland, Western Canada, and the Western United States.[7] It occurs in the wild on heathlands and acidic soils. Its berry has been long consumed in the Old World.[8] It is related to the widely cultivated North American blueberry.



Vaccinium myrtillus has been used for nearly 1,000 years in traditional European medicine. Vaccinium myrtillus fruits have been used in the traditional Austrian medicine internally (directly or as tea or liqueur) for treatment of disorders of the gastrointestinal tract and diabetes.[9] Herbal supplements of V. myrtillus (bilberry) on the market are used for circulatory problems, as vision aids, and to treat diarrhea and other conditions.[3][10] In cooking, the bilberry fruit is commonly used for the same purposes as the American blueberry: pies, cakes, jams, muffins, cookies, sauces, syrups, juices, candies and so on.[3][11]


In traditional medicine, Bilberry leaf is used for different conditions, including diabetes.[3] The United States' National Institutes of Health rates it as "possibly effective for problems with the retina of the eye in people with diabetes or high blood pressure".[12]

Confusion between bilberries and American blueberries[edit]

Bilberries (shown here) and American blueberries are nearly identical, and used for the same purposes.

Since many people refer to "blueberries", no matter if they mean the bilberry (European blueberry) Vaccinium myrtillus or the American blueberries, there is a lot of confusion about the two closely similar fruits. One can distinguish bilberries from their American counterpart by the following differences:

  • bilberries have dark red, strongly fragrant flesh and red juice that turns blue in basic environments; blueberries have white or translucent, mildly fragrant flesh
  • bilberries grow on low bushes with solitary fruits, and are found wild in heathland in the Northern Hemisphere; blueberries grow on large bushes with the fruit in bunches
  • bilberries are usually harvested from wild plants, while blueberries are usually cultivated and are widely available commercially
  • cultivated blueberries often come from hybrid cultivars, developed about 100 years ago by agricultural specialists, most prominently by Elizabeth Coleman White, to meet growing consumer demand; since they are bigger, 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:[13] blueberries have flesh of a less intense colour, thus less staining
  • when cooked as a dessert, bilberries have a much stronger, more tart flavour and a rougher texture than blueberries

Adding to the confusion is the fact there are also wild American blueberry varieties, sold in stores mainly in the USA and Canada. These are uncommon outside of Northern America. Even more confusion is due to the huckleberry name, which originates from English dialectal names 'hurtleberry' and 'whortleberry' for the bilberry.

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 "Bilberry : Science and Safety | NCCIH". Retrieved 2013-11-06. 
  4. ^ Vaccinium myrtillus L., GRIN Taxonomy for Plants, 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
  5. ^ Henley, Jon. Bilberries: the true taste of northern England, The Guardian, Monday 9 June 2008
  6. ^ "Fraughan is an anglicisation of the Irish word Fraochán (or heather fruit, as the plant is often found growing with heather)". té 
  7. ^ "Plants Profile for Vaccinium myrtillus (whortleberry)". Retrieved 2013-11-06. 
  8. ^ "The bilberry is an Old World equivalent of North American blueberry". Retrieved 2013-11-06. 
  9. ^ 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: 750–71. PMC 3791396Freely accessible. PMID 23770053. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2013.06.007. 
  10. ^ [1] Archived June 19, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  11. ^ "Bilberry wine recipe". Retrieved 2013-11-06. 
  12. ^ Bilberry, MedlinePlus
  13. ^ Make Traditional Dyes - Bilberry Dye

External links[edit]

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