Botanical Name: Vaccinium myrtillus, Family
Similar species: All species of Vaccinium are used more or less interchangeably, including species native to North America such as V. alaskanse, V. ovafolium, V. membranaceum, V. parvifolium, V. ovatum, V. caespitosum, V. deliciosum and V. uliginosum.
Plant description: Bilberry is an erect shrub, 30-40 cm in height, with branching flowering stems. The leaves are alternate, light green, flat and oval shaped, tip acute and a finely toothed margin. The pink or white flowers contain 4-5 petals, and give way to a deep purple, fleshy berry with crescent-shaped leaves.
Habitat, ecology and distribution: Vaccinium species occur worldwide in temperate forests to the alpine tundra, most species preferring acidic soils, such as bogs or in moist meadows, typically in shady locations often underneath conifers.
Part used: Leaves, fruit, root, root bark.
History: Grieve states that the name Bilberry is derived from the Danish word 'bollebar,' which means ‘dark berry.’ Mills and Bone recount that Bilberry was at one used as a food-coloring agent and textile dye, as that Bilberry jam was given to RAF pilots during the second world war to improve their night vision (2000, 297).
Constituents: The most commonly described constituents in the leaf of Bilberry and other Vaccinium species are the anthocyanins or anthocyanosides, including glucosides of delphinidin, malvidin, pelargonidin, cyaniding and petunidin. Other glycosidal constituents include ericolin, arbutin, beta-amyrin, nonacosane and flavonoids. Catechin, epicatechin, condensed tannins, oligomeric procyanidins, phenolic acids and pectin have also been described (Mills and Bone 2000, 298; Moore 1993, 83).
Medical Research: Experimental research both in vitro and in vivo had indicated that Bilberry has vascular protective, antioxidant, wound healing, antiplatelet, antiulcer and antitumor properties. Specifically, it appears that the anthocyanins have a collagen-stabilizing activity and growth promoting activities for fibroblasts and smooth muscle cells (Mills and Bone 2000, 299). There is some experimental clinical evidence that supports the traditional use of Bilberry, as follows.
Peripheral and vascular disorders: Mills and Bone report a number of uncontrolled and placebo-controlled clinical trials that demonstrate the efficacy of Bilberry in the treatment of peripheral vascular disorders. More recent trials have utilized a Bilberry extract standardized to between 57 and 173 mg of anthocyanins, which have similarly indicated an improvement in peripheral vascular disorders, including edema, parathesia, pain, and subjective symptoms of varicose veins, including hemorrhoids. Some of these studies also indicate the benefit in Raynauld’s disease, improving movement of the finger joints (Mills and Bone 2000, 300).
Visual disorders: In both uncontrolled and controlled clinical trials a standardized extract of Bilberry has been shown to improve diabetic retinopathy by reducing or even completely ameliorating retinic hemorrhages, with significant improvements in ophthalmoscopic and angiographic patterns. Other studies have shown improvements in visual perception in mild to medium myopia, as well as glaucoma (Mills and Bone 2000, 300).
Dysmenorrhea: In a double-blind placebo-controlled study 30 women with chronic dysmenorrhea were treated with a Bilberry extract equivalent to 115 mg of anthocyanins for 3 days before and after menses. Bilberry was shown to significantly reduce symptoms of dysmenorrhea, including pelvic, lumbar-sacral and breast pain, as well as headache and nausea (Mills and Bone 2000, 301).
Toxicity: Mills and Bonbe report that the oral LD50 of the whole Bilberry extract in rats and mice was greater than the equivalent of 720 mg/kg of the anthocyanins. Long term administration of the equivalent of 180 mg/kg of anthocyanins in experimental animals did not show any indication of toxicity (2000, 301).
Herbal action: tonic, astringent, vasoprotective, antioxidant, antiinflammatory, astringent, diuretic
Indications: dyspepsia, diarrhea, gastroenteritis, cystitis, hemorrhoids, ischemic injuries, respiratory allergies, inflammation, peripheral vascular disorders (e.g. edema, varicosities), capillary fragility and easy bleeding (e.g. nosebleeds, bruising), adult onset diabetes, diabetic retinopathies, myopia, retinitis, glaucoma, poor night vision, post-operative surgical wounds
Contraindications and cautions: As an antiplatelet activity has been described for Bilberry its use along with aspirin, warfarin and other antiplatelet drugs should be avoided.
Medicinal uses: In many respects Bilberry is the perfect geriatric herbal remedy, active against many of the problems that come with aging, including a general loss of tone in the tissues, with capillary fragility and a declining ability to deal with free radical injury. Bilberry certainly isn’t an elixir of immortality, but it can help to improve many of the symptoms of aging, both subjectively and objectively. For this purpose Bilberry should be taken in modest doses on a daily basis as a preventative. Moore mentions that Bilberry is useful in cystitis with an alkaline urine, a tendency more common in women that tend to eat a diet rich in carbohydrates. For this purpose Bilberry can help to gently acidify the urine, but in cases of acidic-loving bacterial infections Bilberry won’t be effective. Moore also mentions that Bilberry may be effective to manage labile blood sugar levels in both type 1 and type 2 diabetics. For early morning awakening due to hyperglycemia Moore states that a couple cups of the tea the afternoon before can help to gently lower blood sugar levels (1993, 86-87). Felter and Lloyd state that a tincture of the berries and roots is an excellent diuretic, useful in edema and urinary gravel, whereas a decoction of the leaves and root bark is a useful astringent, in the treatment of diarrhoea, and in topical applications in ulcers, leucorrhoea, and ulcerations of the mouth and throat (1893). Cook states that a decoction of the root is useful as a gargle in sore throat (1869). The German physician Rudolf Weiss gives different consideration to the dried and fresh Bilberry fruit, considering both as a useful therapy in bowel disorders. Prepared as a decoction the dried berries are stated by Weiss to be effective diarrhea and infantile dyspepsia, having astringent, tonic and absorptive properties. Upon ingestion the stools become slightly more acidic, and the bluish-purple pigments are absorbed by the intestinal mucosa forming an adherent layer that protects against mechanical irritation and inflammation. Weiss states that such preparations are particularly effective in mild intestinal dyspepsia that respond poorly to other approaches. In regard to the consumption of the fresh fruit however, Weiss states that the properties of the fruit tends more towards a laxative effect, but with a similar healing and protective property that is often required in cases of chronic constipation (Weiss 1988, 101-102).
Pharmacy and dosage:.
• Fresh plant tincture: fresh leaves, 1:2, 95% alcohol, 20-40 gtt • Hot Infusion: recently dried leaves, 1:20, 60-120 mL • Decoction: dried fruit, 1:20, 150-200 mL • Powder: dried leaves, standardized to 120 mg anthocyanins • Fresh fruit: ad libitum
Vaccinium myrtillus is found in Europe, northern Asia, Greenland, Western Canada, and the Western United States.<ref>http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=VAMY2&mapType=nativity&photoID=vamy2_001_ahp.tif USDA . accessed 11.10.2010</ref>
Vaccinium myrtillus has been used for nearly 1,000 years in traditional European medicine. Herbal supplements of Vaccinium myrtillus (bilberry) are on the market, used for circulatory problems, a vision aid, diarrhea, and other conditions.<ref name=“nihgov”>http://nccam.nih.gov/health/bilberry/ . accessed 8/30/2010</ref><ref>http://www.herbmed.org/herbs/Herb132.htm . accessed 8/30/2010</ref>
The bilberry fruit is commonly used to make pies and jams.<ref name=“nihgov” />
Bilberry leaf is used for different conditions, including diabetes. It is used as a medicinal plant.<ref name=“nihgov” />
myrtillus Berries Flora of Europe Flora of Asia Flora of Northeast Asia Flora of Greenland Flora of Western Canada Flora of the Western United States Flora of the Rocky Mountains region (North America) Flora of New Mexico Flora of Oregon Flora of Finland Flora of Russia Medicinal plants
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