Bilberry ~ Blueberry’s CousinJan 31, 2022 07:35AM ● By Kathleen Gould and Madalyn Johnson
Much like the more well-known North American blueberries, bilberries are a rich source of anthocyanins (colorful plant pigments that may protect you from free radicals), but the anthocyanins are higher in bilberries. These amazing little berries are anti-inflammatory and benefit the immune system, heart and circulatory system, digestive system and brain.
Since we are addressing heart health in this article, we will stay mainly focused on that. Eating bilberries a number of times a week has shown to improve heart and circulatory health, as they have a soothing effect on blood vessels, which helps them to relax and expand so they can move more oxygen throughout our bodies. Bilberries assist in inhibition of platelet aggregation and muscle contraction, which has become of interest in these troubling times. These little superfoods are also great antioxidants. Antioxidants scavenge free radicals from the bloodstream and help prevent cell destruction, which also helps to strengthen and maintain a healthy immune system. And let’s not forget how rich they are in vitamins C and K; vitamin K helps prevent the formation of blood clots, reducing your risk of heart disease.
Bilberries, like blueberries, can be eaten fresh off the vine but have also traditionally been cooked into pies, muffins, jams and jellies, and they even make a very nice liqueur. Also, they are a nice addition to smoothies, oatmeal and your favorite yogurt parfait. Simply take your dried bilberries and grind them into a powder to add to your favorite breakfast or treat. If the bilberries aren’t quite sweet enough, add a touch of powdered stevia or your favorite sugar to your grinding process and viola … deliciousness!
Fresh bilberries are not always easy to get; they are grown best in the UK, eastern Canada and in a few areas of the United States with cool climates, so growing in Arizona is a bit of a challenge. Thank goodness for dried bilberries. They can be used in many of the recipes where fresh is recommended. To reconstitute dried bilberries, add 1 cup of dried berries to 1 cup of water in a bowl. Mix and cover. Refrigerate overnight, and then these berries are ready for use. You can use them instead of blueberries in pancakes, muffins and breads.
In our herbal world, a popular way to get the health benefits of dried bilberries is to make an extract (tincture) of them. This is quite easy to do and very effective. In a quart-size jar, add 4 to 5 ounces of dried bilberries and cover with 100 proof vodka (or apple cider vinegar or vegetable glycerin if avoiding alcohol). Tip: Some herbalists believe that using a sweet brandy for their tinctures brings out the natural flavors of the bilberries a bit more than vodka. Cover and let sit on your kitchen counter for four to six weeks, shaking the jar every now and then. Strain and use the remaining liquid as your medicine. A dropperful a day is a nice starting dose. Note: Always check with your preferred medical adviser before starting something new, especially diabetics and pregnant women.
One nonmedicinal, fun use for bilberries is dying fabric. If that is your pleasure, make a nice strong tea of bilberries and let cool. Then add your desired white fabric to the mix, and mix and twirl often while soaking. In an hour, you will get a lovely light purple color, but in several hours you will have a beautiful deep purple fabric that can be used to brighten your sewing project.
Incorporating plants into our lives, whether done in a medicinal, culinary or crafty manner, is such a wonderful way to learn about the natural world around us. And bilberries are a healthy and tasty addition to anyone’s world. Your heart will love you for it!
Kathleen Gould, registered herbalist, and Madalyn Johnson are proprietors of SW Herb Shop and Gathering Place. Gould has been an herbalist for 30-plus years and has extensive experience in herbal medicine. For more information, call 480-694-9931, or visit SWHerb.com or Store.SWHerb.com.