What are Bilberries?
Bilberries, sometimes called European blueberries or whortleberries, are the fruits of a shrub commonly found in Great Britain, Europe and some Asian countries. They are in fact related to the wild blueberries and huckleberries found in North America, and a few varieties grow in certain western states. Bilberries can be eaten raw, but many cooks prefer to use them in jams, jellies, syrups and other products. They are highly regarded for their high levels of antioxidants and are said to be effective digestive aids.
One widespread misconception concerning bilberries is their alleged effect on night vision. This rumor most likely started during World War II, when British pilots routinely received care packages from loved ones. These packages often included jams or jellies made with bilberries. Pilots who consumed items made with the berries shortly before night missions allegedly claimed that the fruit's ingredients improved their night vision significantly. Soldiers trapped behind enemy lines were said to consume them while traveling in the dark.
Scientific tests on bilberries have not revealed any ingredient known to improve night vision. There is some unscientific evidence that they can have an effect on other eye diseases, such as macular degeneration, but to date, the fruit has no approved medical uses. The leaves of the bilberry plant have also been used to make therapeutic teas for gastrointestinal problems, but this is a purely homeopathic remedy.
Despite the lack of any scientific endorsement of bilberries as a proven health aid, many natural supplement companies market extracts, infusions and topical ointments made from both the berries and the leaves. Some consumers of bilberry extracts report relief from menstrual cramps, varicose veins, diarrhea and certain eye problems. The leaves are touted as a natural treatment for complications of diabetes. The berries also seem to have some noticeable effects on capillaries and other parts of the circulatory system.
Bilberries can be used in both wines and liqueurs. They have also been used in tarts and as a flavoring for crepes, much like the blueberry pancakes popular in the United States. Essentially, anything that can be created with blueberries can also be created with bilberries, although locating fresh ones on American grocery store shelves may prove difficult. The plants are rarely cultivated for export, but jams, jellies and syrups made from the berries may be available in gourmet shops or European grocery stores.
@Chmander - I noticed that you discussed how bilberries don't seem to be as well known as blueberries, especially in America.
Well, if you read further down in the article, notice how it says that finding fresh ones in the grocery stores can be quite difficult, mainly because bilberries aren't even American to begin with. Not to mention how it says that the plants are hardly ever cultivated for export.
This is a pretty good explanation of why it's so hard to find them. However, some of the best advice that I can give you is to look online for Bilberry related products.
As most of those bilberry products, whether they're supplements or jams, can easily be found there. In fact, this can apply to a lot of "foreign" items. While they might not be available in the states, on the other hand, they are easily accessible in online grocery stores, such as Amazon.
In relation to this article, I really appreciate that it goes against any "facts" about bilberries being able to help with night vision. Generally speaking, the reason why is because I feel like more than often, we might rely on supplements way to much, in order to fix any problems that they have. Whether it's something as small as eye floaters, or something as serious as heart disease.
Obviously, that's not to say that supplements are bad, as we all need that extra dose every now and then. However, once we become dependent on them one hundred percent, that's when it starts to become a problem, in my opinion.
On another note, it really makes me wonder just how true the claims are, that the World War II pilots would eat bilberry jam in order to improve their vision. While it's possible that they did, who knows how much it truly helped with their vision, if it even did at all.
Is it just me, or do bilberries not seem as popular and well known as some other brands of berries that are in the same family? For example, at least in America, blueberries are one of those fruits that you hear talked about more than often.
However, based on my experience, it almost seems like bilberries are one of those "exclusive" berries and fruits that are only used in medicine and other kinds of supplements. Nothing more, nothing less.
Using one example, I have a friend who right now, is dealing with vision problems. When I recommended that he take some bilberry supplement capsules, he didn't even know what bilberries were, and I had to explain to him about the capsules.
Even though I've never tasted bilberries before, perhaps it's possible that they work better as actual supplements, and not something that one can eat by themselves. However, this article, combined with the fact that you can replaces them with blueberries in quick breads, really says otherwise.
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