Vaccinium: Bilberry forms

by Paul Bergner

Medical Herbalism 01-31-95 6(4): 6


Bilberries were a common food among Native Americans in all part of the continent where they grow (Erichsen-Brown). Some tribes still harvest and dry them and use them as a winter food. The berries are high in tannins (7%) (Weiss), and the resulting astringent effects makes them effective for diarrhea and dysentery. For this purpose they are taken as dried berries or as unsweetened bilberry juice.


The leaf (tincture or tea) has been used as an anti-diabetic herb for centuries. According to Weiss (Herbal Medicine) it works through the action of its constituent glucokinins, which have an insulin-like effect. He cautions that glucokinins are not some superior “plant insulin” but act indirectly through a toxic effect on the liver. He discourages long-term use.

The leaves of some species contain arbutin, and can be used like Acrtolostaphylos uva ursi (bearberry) as a diuretic and urinary antiseptic. The leaves of V. myrtillus (bilberry) do not contain arbutin (Sticher)

Concentrated extracts

Most modern research and medicinal use has been on a highly concentrated extract, with 25% anthocyanosides, with tannins removed and using V Myrtillus, which does not contain arbutin (see above). The berries normally have less than 1% anthocyanosides (Kyermaten). The dose is from 180 to 800 mg a day of the extract, in three doses. The vascular effects in the accompanying article have been noted and documented with this form. Effects have been noted in improving capillary fragility, varicosities, retinal eye disorders, cataract, menstrual disorders, peptic ulcers, and atherosclerosis (Werbach and Murray).

Erichsen-Brown, C. Medicinal and Other Uses of North American Plants: A Historical Survey with Special Reference to the Eastern Indian Tribes. 1979. Dover Publications

Kyerematen, G and Sandberg F 1986 Acta Pharm Sueca 23:101

Sticher, O. 1979 Planta Medica. 35:253

Weiss RF Herbal Medicine Beaconsfield Publishers 1988

Werbach, M and Murray M. Botanical Influences on Illness 1994. Third Line Press. Tarzana, California.

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