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 holarctic species of shrub with edible fruit of blue color, known by the common names bilberry, blaeberry, wimberry, and whortleberry.[3] It is more precisely called common bilberry or blue whortleberry to distinguish it from other Vaccinium relatives.


Vaccinium myrtillus is a holarctic species native to Continental Northern Europe, the British Isles and Ireland, northern Asia, Japan, Greenland, Iceland, Western Canada, and the Western United States. It occurs in the acidic soils of heaths, boggy barrens, degraded meadows, open forests and parklands, hummocky seepage slopes, and moraines.[4][5]

Common names[edit]

Regional names include blaeberry (Scotland), urts or hurts (Cornwall and Devon),[6] hurtleberry,[7] myrtleberry,[8] wimberry, whinberry, winberry,[9] and fraughan.[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.
Bilberries above Merthyr Tydfil, on Mynydd Aberdâr


Vaccinium myrtillus has been used for centuries in traditional 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.[11] 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 are under study for their potential biological effects.[3] The United States National Institutes of Health stated, "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 filling for pies, tarts and flans, cakes, jams, muffins, cookies, sauces, syrups, juices, and candies.[3]


In traditional medicine, bilberry leaf were used for treating mainly skin disorders.[3]


Although bilberries are in high demand by consumers in northern Europe, the berries are harvested in the wild without any cultivation. Some authors state that opportunities exist to improve the crop if cultivated using common agricultural practices.[12]

Confusion between European blueberries and American blueberries[edit]

Bilberries have dark red juice that will stain hands

Since many people refer to "blueberries" whether they intend to refer to the bilberry (European blueberry) Vaccinium myrtillus or the American blueberries Vaccinium corymbosum, there is confusion about the two closely similar fruits. For instance, in the Scandinavian languages, Vaccinium myrtillus and other bilberries are called blåbär (or blåbær), which literally means blueberry.[citation needed]

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),[13] 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ illustration by Amédée Masclef, published in Atlas des plantes de France. 1891
  2. ^ Vaccinium myrtillus L. The Plant List
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Bilberry : Science and Safety | NCCIH". Retrieved 2018-03-19.
  4. ^ "Vaccinium myrtillus Linnaeus". Flora of North America. Retrieved 2021-09-21.
  5. ^ "Vaccinium myrtillus L." USDA Plants Database. Retrieved 2021-09-21.
  6. ^ Phillipps, K. C. (1993). A Glossary of the Cornish Dialect. Padstow: Tabb House. p. 57. ISBN 0-907018-91-2.
  7. ^ "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
  8. ^ "Bilberry, Blaeberry, Whortleberry, Whinberry, Windberry, Myrtle Berry, Vaccinium myrtillus". Wild Food UK. Retrieved 2020-07-31.
  9. ^ Henley, Jon. Bilberries: the true taste of northern England, The Guardian, Monday 9 June 2008
  10. ^ "Fraughan is an anglicisation of the Irish word Fraochán (or heather fruit, as the plant is often found growing with heather)". té
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ Make Traditional Dyes – Bilberry Dye

External links[edit]