Botany: A small under shrub of the heather family. It is erect and hairless. The leaves are alternate , green, oval, pointed and finely toothed. The lowers are globular and pinkish-white, sometimes with a green tinge. They droop from the leaf-axils, singly or in pairs and are made up of 5 fused petals. The flowers appear in May and the blue/black berries ripen at the end of July or beginning of August. Related species are V. vitis-idaea, V. macrocarpon, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi and they are all used primarily as urinary antiseptics.
Parts used: Berries and leaves.
Harvesting, cultivation and habitat: The plant is native to North America, Asia and Europe. It grows on moorlands, heaths and other areas with acid soil, including as an undershrub in light woodland and on boggy areas. It is also cultivated extensively. Propagation is by cuttings or from seed sown in the autumn. The leaves are harvested in the summer
History and folklore: In Ireland they were regularly mentioned as a favourite wild food in early monastic poetry. They were traditionally collected at Lughnasadh (1st August) or Lammas (1st Sunday in August). Fraughan Sunday was a day of festivities before the harvest began and was also a traditional day for courtship. Its benefits for eyesight (especially as regards improving night vision) were first noticed in the 2nd world war when pilots noticed that consuming bilberry jam helped them to see at night. Bilberry is one of our native adaptogens, very similar in some ways to Shisandra. One day I was out in the garden musing on what the energetics of bilberry and blue were so I started listening to the plants here and asked them what they do on that level and the reply was help you see in the dark. I was about to say that I know that is what they do physically when I had a double, or triple aha moment; they help us to see in the long dark night of the soul too, and secondly that the physical effects describe the energetic effects and thirdly that a significant encounter with bilberries in the wild was on a ritual walk with a friend and my kids after my father had died. The fact that the leaves are used to balance blood sugars, treat diabetes and therefore work on the solar plexus are indicative of the fact that the plant helps us to digest the information that comes in at those times of soul searching and intensive interior work. The anthocyanins tthat reapir tissues and reduce inflammation show how it protects and repairs our tissues but also help us with stressful overloads of energetic information and the plant also helps to reapir the circulation, helps keep our energy moving and circulating when we feel like pulling in and closing down. The plant also helps prevent haemorrhaging of our energy. The taste is sweet, slightly sour
Tannins, Oligomeric proanthocyanins, Flavonoids, Fruit acids, Phenolic acids, Vitamin B1, C and carotene, Pectin
Circulatory tonic, Antioxidant, Anti-inflammatory, Astringent, Vasodilator, Leaves are a diuretic and urinary antiseptic. They are also antidiabetic, Mildly antibacterial
Traditional and current uses
Mild laxative and also used to treat diarrhoea
Improves capillary function and increases capillary strength and reduces permeability. Therefore used to treat petechiae, easy bruising and nosebleeds
Absolutely amazing to use in smoothies, syrups, vinegars, pies, muffins. We never manage to bring enough home from our forages to make much with, they all get eaten on the way (and they turn your tongue the most interesting shade of blue). Can also be tinctured. When one picks them one appreciates the relatively high price of bought in tincture and dried berries- it takes a lot of work.