Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus)
The bilberry is a tall shrub with angular, green branches. Its leaves are elliptic and have have toothed margins. The leaves drop for the winter. The bilberry flowers light pink flowers in May–July. The bilberry is dark blue both outside and inside, globose, and has a waxy surface or black and shiny in cases where the protective waxy layer is missing.
Herb-rich, mesic and sub-xeric heath forests in southern Finland. In northern Finland, the bilberry is found in slightly drier and more barren heath forests. It prefers shady areas out of direct sunlight. The best places to look for bilberries are northern slopes, edges of logging areas and the banks of forest ponds.
The best time to pick bilberries is from the end of July until the beginning of September.
Bilberries contain vitamins C, E and fiber. The most significant health benefit of the bilberry, however, is the anthocyanin compounds it contains. The wild bilberry is three to four times richer in these flavonoids than is the related highbush blueberry, a cultivated plant. The blue pulp of the wild bilberry is full of the pigment anthocyanin, while the highbush blueberry has a light-coloured pulp.
Vaccinium myrtillus has been used for nearly 1,000 years in traditional European to support health in many ways. There are many health claims related to bilberry at the moment in European Food Safety Authority EFSA's register (EU Register of nutrition and health claims made on foods) waiting for verification.
Bilberry is most commonly used to make jams and pies.
To be noted
The amount of bilberries have reduced by half since 1950s. The main reasons for this are clearcutting, tillage and unsustainable forestry.
Photos: Aino Huotari