(b) The fruit of several shrubby plants of the genus Gaylussacia; also, any one of these plants. See Huckleberry. [1913 Webster]
1 erect European blueberry having solitary flowers and blue-black berries [syn: bilberry, whinberry, blaeberry, Viccinium myrtillus]
Bilberry is a name given to several species of low-growing shrubs in the genus Vaccinium (family Ericaceae) that bears fruits. The species most often referred to is Vaccinium myrtillus L., also known as European blueberry, blaeberry, whortleberry, whinberry (or winberry), myrtle blueberry, fraughan, and probably other names regionally. They were called black-hearts in 19th century southern England, according to Thomas Hardy's 1878 novel, The Return of the Native, (pg. 311, Oxford World's Classics edition).
The word bilberry is also sometimes used in the common names of other species of the genus, including Vaccinium uliginosum L. (bog bilberry, bog blueberry, bog whortleberry, bog huckleberry, northern bilberry), Vaccinium caespitosum Michx. (dwarf bilberry), Vaccinium deliciosum Piper (Cascade bilberry), Vaccinium membranaceum (mountain bilberry, black mountain huckleberry, black huckleberry, twin-leaved huckleberry), and Vaccinium ovalifolium (oval-leafed blueberry, oval-leaved bilberry, mountain blueberry, high-bush blueberry).
Wild and cultivated harvestingBilberries are found in damp, acidic soils throughout the temperate and subarctic regions of the world. They are closely related to North American wild and cultivated blueberries and huckleberries in the genus Vaccinium. The easiest way to distinguish the bilberry is that it produces single or pairs of berries on the bush instead of clusters like the blueberry. Another way to distinguish them is that while blueberry fruit pulp is light green, bilberry is red or purple, sometimes staining the fingers and lips of consumers eating the raw fruit.
Bilberries are seldom cultivated but fruits are sometimes collected from wild plants growing on publicly accessible lands, notably in Fennoscandia, Scotland, Ireland and Poland. Note that in Fennoscandia, it is an everyman's right to collect bilberries, irrespective of land ownership, with the exception of private gardens. Bilberries can be picked by a berry-picking rake like lingonberries, but are more susceptible to damage.
In Ireland, the fruit is known as fraughan, from the Irish fraochán, and is traditionally gathered on the last Sunday in July, known as Fraughan Sunday.
Bilberries were also collected at Lughnassadh in August, the first traditional harvest festival of the year, as celebrated by Gaelic people. The crop of bilberries was said to indicate how well the rest of the crops would fare in their harvests later in the year.
The fruits can be eaten fresh, but are more usually made into jams, fools, juices or pies. In France they are used as a base for liqueurs and are a popular flavoring for sorbets and other desserts. In Brittany, they are often used as a flavoring for crêpes, and in the Vosges and the Massif Central bilberry tart (tarte aux myrtilles) is a traditional dessert.
Bilberry is used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species - see list of Lepidoptera that feed on Vaccinium.
Possible medicinal usesOften associated with improvement of night vision, bilberries are mentioned in a popular story of World War II RAF pilots consuming bilberry jam to sharpen vision for night missions. However, a recent study by the U.S. Navy found no such effect and origins of the RAF story cannot be found.
Laboratory studies have provided preliminary evidence that bilberry consumption may inhibit or reverse eye disorders such as macular degeneration, but this therapeutic use remains unproven in humans.
As a deep blue fruit, bilberries contain dense levels of anthocyanin pigments linked experimentally to lowered risk for several diseases, such as those of the heart and cardiovascular system, eyes and cancer.
In folk medicine, bilberry leaves were used to treat gastrointestinal ailments, applied topically, or made into infusions. Such effects have not been scientifically proven.
whortleberry in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Чарніцы
whortleberry in Catalan: Nabiu
whortleberry in Czech: Brusnice borůvka
whortleberry in Welsh: Llus
whortleberry in Danish: Almindelig Blåbær
whortleberry in German: Blaubeere
whortleberry in Estonian: Harilik mustikas
whortleberry in Spanish: Vaccinium myrtillus
whortleberry in Esperanto: Mirtelo
whortleberry in French: Myrtille commune
whortleberry in Irish: Fraochán
whortleberry in Galician: Arandeira
whortleberry in Italian: Vaccinium myrtillus
whortleberry in Lithuanian: Mėlynė
whortleberry in Hungarian: Fekete áfonya
whortleberry in Dutch: Blauwe bosbes
whortleberry in Japanese: ビルベリー
whortleberry in Norwegian: Blåbær
whortleberry in Norwegian Nynorsk: Blåbær
whortleberry in Polish: Borówka czarna
whortleberry in Portuguese: Mirtilo
whortleberry in Romanian: Afin
whortleberry in Russian: Черника
whortleberry in Northern Sami: Sarri
whortleberry in Serbian: Боровница
whortleberry in Saterfriesisch: Bikbäie
whortleberry in Finnish: Mustikka
whortleberry in Swedish: Blåbär
whortleberry in Turkish: Çay üzümü
whortleberry in Ukrainian: Чорниця