Blueberries aren’t just delicious, they also have many well-researched health benefits. Bilberries and Blueberries have been used in healing for at least one thousand years, but reference to their use as a medicine in Germany dates back to the 12th century. Blueberry is rich in nutrients and has long been used to make juices, jams and desserts. In Iceland, a popular dish is made with Blueberries, Icelandic skyr and cream. I use wild Icelandic Blueberries and Bilberries in my clinical practice and I also eat them every day myself. Blueberries are without doubt the easiest medicine I prescribe since my patients love eating them daily.

Blueberries or Bilberries?

Dried Bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillus), often as a standardized extract in capsule form, have been used as a popular food supplement in North America and Europe for the past few decades. In comparison, Blueberries (Vaccinium uliginosum) have been less used for medicinal purposes and have not been researched as much as Bilberry. This does not mean, however, that the Blueberry is not effective in healing, I have used Blueberry and Bilberry interchangeably for a long time and I believe they are equally powerful.

Bilberry Jam and the Second World War

Bilberry was first researched in Britain during World War II when it was given to pilots in the form of Bilberry jam, with the belief that it improved vision, particularly for night flights. Ever since then, the effects of Bilberry on vision and eye diseases have been researched.

They are Good for Your Eyes

Bilberries have long been popular for a variety of retinal diseases, high blood pressure and diabetes. They strengthen eyesight and are considered effective against glaucoma, cataracts and night blindness. I always have patients with eye disease eat wild Blueberries (or organically grown) daily as well as take Triphala which is also especially good for the eyes.

Blueberries Help Your Digestion

Traditionally, the berries have been used, dried and boiled, for diarrhea, especially in children. They are antibacterial and are effective against Helicobacter pylori, which causes gastritis and stomach ulcers. They are also known to help colitis. Fresh Bilberry contains fructose, which stimulates digestion and has laxative properties.

They have Strong Anti-Inflammatory and Antioxidant Effects

Bilberries have a high antioxidant content, which will boost the immune system, lessen the risk of cardiovascular disease and reduce wrinkles. The berries and leaves are reported to be good for gingivitis, sore throats and externally for healing wounds. Both the berries and leaves are diuretic and good for cystitis and are traditionally used to lower blood sugar. Bilberries are rich in vitamins and have also been used against anemia and scurvy.

Old Icelandic Text from 1830

“The berries, leaves and roots of this herb are cooling, astringent and prevent infection. They are therefore good against diarrhea, fever and scurvy, also for drying up pus from bad boils.” – Oddur Jónsson Hjaltalín, Icelandic Botany, 1830

Bilberries Help Fighting Cancer

Several in vitro and in vivo testing show that Bilberries inhibit the growth of cancer cells, particularly in the colon and breast, as well as in leukaemia. In one such test, it became apparent that out of the 10 different berry types that were researched, Bilberry was the most effective. I always use wild Icelandic Blueberries or Bilberries (or organically grown) when I treat cancer in my clinical practice. With the berries, I also use various Medicinal Mushrooms and tailormade herbal blends when treating cancer.

They Strengthen the Venous System

They are reputed to be effective against varicose veins, vasculitis, atherosclerosis, Raynaud’s Disease, hemorrhoids and nosebleeds. They also strengthen capillary veins.

Bilberries

Wild Icelandic Bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillus). I ate all of them after taking this photo!

Anti-Ageing Effect on Your Skin

Blueberries contain high amounts of vitamins and other antioxidant substances like flavonoids. It is well known that antioxidants have beneficial effects on the skin as they can reduce inflammation and have anti-aging effects. Some research has also indicated that the external application of Bilberry can protect the skin from the damaging effects of the sun. I highly recommend eating berries every day for your skin, especially Blueberries and Crowberries. However, the skin needs to be protected externally as well and then nothing beats a good moisturiser. I can highly recommend my Age-Defying Combo which will give your skin long-lasting hydration and reduce fine lines and wrinkles.

They Reduce Bleeding and Heal Wounds

Clinical trials show that Bilberry reduces bleeding between periods caused by IUDs and also surgical bleeding. The berries and leaves are good externally for healing wounds, and as a douche for vaginal discharges. They also effectively relieve PMT and period pains.

Enjoy Blueberries for Breakfast

I love picking large amounts of Blueberries in the autumn and freeze for the winter. That way I can have wild Blueberries for breakfast all year around. This Superfood Breakfast Bowl is currently my favorite breakfast but before I ate this Gluten-Free Porridge for years.

Research on Bilberries and Blueberries

In much of the following research, Bilberry extract in capsule form was used in which the active compound, anthocyanocide, had been standardized.

  • Various human clinical studies have been done to find out the effectiveness of Bilberry on eyesight, the oldest trials being from the 1970s. Recent double-blind trials using a placebo are better than the older trials, and in most cases confirm older research.
  • Clinical trials indicate the positive effects of Bilberry on retinal diseases and eye diseases related to high blood pressure as well as those related to diabetes, night blindness, glaucoma, nearsightedness and cataracts,1-6 though recent studies have debunked older research, to some extent, on night blindness.7,8
  • In vitro and in vivo tests additionally show positive effects of Bilberry in the treatment of eye disease.9-15
  • There has been some clinical research on the effectiveness of Bilberry in the treatment of vascular disease, with positive results, e.g. Raynaud’s Disease, varicose veins, haemorrhoids and vasculitis.
  • Bilberry is also thought to reduce oedema, pain, cramps and itching due to dysfunction in the vascular system. 16-21
  • Two clinical trials show that Bilberry reduces bleeding between periods caused by IUDs22 and also surgical bleeding.23
  • Several in vitro and in vivo tests indicate that Bilberry strengthens the cardiovascular system and protects against atherosclerosis.26-30
  • In vitro testing shows that Bilberry has a high concentration of antioxidants 31-43 and the berries also have anti-inflammatory properties.1
  • In vitro and in vivo testing show that Bilberry inhibits the growth of cancer cells, particularly in the colon and breast, as well as in leukaemia.44-53 In one such test, it became apparent that out of the 10 different berry types that were researched, Bilberry was the most effective.54
  • In vitro tests on both leaves and berries show antibacterial properties. Bilberry leaves are effective against tuberculosis bacteria56 and the berries are considered to be active against Streptococcus pneumonia, the cause of pneumonia, meningitis and otitis.57
  • It has also been shown that Bilberry is effective against Helicobacter pylori, which causes gastritis and stomach ulcers,58,59 and on the parasite, Giardia duodenalis, a common cause of diarrhoea.60
  • Both leaves and berries of Bilberry have been used traditionally to lower blood sugar; some research confirms this efficacy,61,62 and some does not.63
  • Some research has indicated that the external application of Bilberry can protect the skin from the damaging effects of the sun.64,65
  • One clinical trial showed that Bilberry could be effective for period pains and premenstrual tension.66

Although Blueberry (Vaccinium uliginosum) has not been researched as much as Bilberry,  some recent research has been done on it.

  • In vitro testing on Blueberry shows its inhibitory effect on cancer cells,67,68 its lowering effect on blood sugar69 and its antioxidant properties.70,71
  • In vitro tests show that Blueberry reduces necrosis and the damaging effect of light on the retina, increasing the possibility of retinal repair after damage caused by light.72
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About the Author

Anna Rósa is a medical herbalist and author of the bestselling book Icelandic Herbs and Their Medicinal Uses. She’s the CEO and founder of Anna Rósa Skincare and a member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists in UK. It’s the oldest herbalist institute in the world, founded in 1894.

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Anna Rósa CEO and Founder of Anna Rósa Skincare