Botanical name: Vaccinium myrtillus
© Steven Foster
Parts used and where grown
A close relative of American blueberry,
bilberry grows in northern Europe, Canada, and the United States. The ripe berries are
primarily used in modern herbal extracts.
Bilberry has been used in
connection with the following conditions (refer to the individual
health concern for complete information):
Historical or traditional use (may
or may not be supported by scientific studies)
The dried berries and leaves of bilberry have been recommended for a wide variety of
conditions, including scurvy, urinary tract
infections, kidney stones, and diabetes. Perhaps the most sound historical
application is the use of the dried berries to treat diarrhea. Modern research of bilberry was partly based
on its use by British World War II pilots, who noticed that their night vision improved when
they ate bilberry jam prior to night bombing raids.1
Anthocyanosides, the flavonoid complex in
bilberries, speed the regeneration of rhodopsin, the purple pigment that is used by the rods
in the eye for night vision.2 While earlier trials suggested that taking bilberry
could benefit people with night
blindness,3 4 more recent trials with healthy volunteers have found
no effect of bilberry on night vision.5 6 Preliminary human trials
conducted in Europe show that bilberry may prevent cataracts,7 and may even help to treat
people with mild retinopathies (such as macular
degeneration and diabetic
retinopathy).8 9 Anthocyanosides are potent antioxidants.10 They support normal
formation of connective tissue and strengthen capillaries in the body. Anthocyanosides may
also improve capillary and venous blood flow. Bilberry may also prevent blood vessel
thickening due to diabetes.11
Bilberry protects cholesterol from oxidizing in test tubes.12 While this action
is thought to help prevent atherosclerosis, no
human trials have studied whether bilberry may be useful in the regard.
How much is usually taken?
Bilberry herbal extract in capsules or tablets standardized to provide 25% anthocyanosides
are typically recommended at 240–600 mg per day.13 Herbalists have
traditionally recommended taking 1–2 ml two times per day in tincture form, or
20–60 grams of the fruit daily.
Are there any side effects or interactions?
In recommended amounts, no side effects have been reported with bilberry extract.
At the time of writing, there were no well-known drug interactions
1. Brown DJ. Herbal Prescriptions for Health and Healing.
Roseville, CA: Prima Health, 2000, 47–54.
2. Sala D, Rolando M, Rossi PL, et al. Effect of anthocyanosides on
visual performance at low illumination. Minerva Oftalmol 1979;21:283–5.
3. Jayle GE, Aubry M, Gavini H, et al. Study concerning the action of
anthocyanoside extracts of Vaccinium myrtillus on night vision. Ann Ocul
1965;198:556–62 [in French].
4. Belleoud L, Leluan D, Boyer YS. Study on the effects of anthocyanin
glycosides on the nocturnal vision of air controllers. Rev Med Aeronaut Spatiale
5. Zadok D, Levy Y, Glovinsky Y. The effect of anthocyanosides in a
multiple oral dose on night vision. Eye 1999;13:734–6.
6. Muth ER, Laurent JM, Jasper P. The effect of bilberry nutritional
supplementation on night visual acuity and contrast sensitivity. Altern Med Rev
7. Bravetti G. Preventive medical treatment of senile cataract with
vitamin E and anthocyanosides: Clinical evaluation. Ann Ottalmol Clin Ocul
1989;115:109 [in Italian].
8. Perossini M, Guidi G, Chiellini S, Siravo D. Diabetic and hypertensive
retinopathy therapy with Vaccinium myrtillus anthocyanosides (Tegens®):
Double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Ann Ottalmol Clin Ocul
1987;12:1173–90 [in Italian].
9. Scharrer A, Ober M. Anthocyanosides in the treatment of retinopathies.
Klin Monatsbl Augenheikld Beih 1981;178:386–9.
10. Salvayre R, Braquet P, Perruchot T, DousteBlazy L. Comparison of the
scavenger effect of bilberry anthocyanosides with various flavonoids. Proceed Intl
Bioflavonoids Symposium, Munich, 1981, 437–42.
11. Boniface R, Miskulin M, Robert AM. Pharmacological properties of
myrtillus anthocyanosides: Correlation with results of treatment of diabetic microangiopathy.
In Flavonoids and Bioflavonoids, L Farkas, M Gabors, FL Kallay, eds. Ireland:
Elsevier, 1985, 293–301.
12. Francesca Rasetti M, Caruso D, Galli G, et al. Extracts of Ginkgo
biloba L. leaves and Vaccinium myrtillus L. fruits prevent photo induced
oxidation of low density lipoprotein cholesterol. Phytomedicine
13. Brown DJ. Herbal Prescriptions for Health and Healing.
Roseville, CA: Prima Health, 2000, 47–54.