Blue whortleberry

Vaccinium myrtillus
Heath (Ericaceae)

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Vaccinium myrtillus or European blueberry is a species of shrub with edible fruit of blue color, commonly called "bilberry", "blaeberry", "wimberry", "whortleberry". It has much in common with the American blueberry (Vaccinium cyanococcus). It is more precisely called common bilberry or blue whortleberry, to distinguish it from other Vaccinium relatives. Regional names include blaeberry (Scotland), urts or hurts (Cornwall & Devon), hurtleberry, huckleberry, myrtleberry, wimberry, whinberry, winberry, blueberry, and fraughan. Chromosome count is 2n =24.


Vaccinium myrtillus is found natively in Continental Northern Europe, the British Isles and Ireland, Iceland and across the Caucasus into northern Asia. It is a non-native introduced species in Western Canada and the Western United States. It occurs in the wild on heathlands and acidic soils. Its berry has been long consumed in the Old World. It is related to the widely cultivated North American blueberry.



Vaccinium myrtillus has been used for nearly 1,000 years in traditional European medicine. Vaccinium myrtillus fruits have been used in traditional Austrian medicine internally (directly or as tea or liqueur) for treatment of disorders of the gastrointestinal tract and diabetes. Herbal supplements of V. myrtillus (bilberry) on the market are used for cardiovascular conditions, diabetes, as vision aids, and to treat diarrhea and other conditions. Researchers are interested in bilberry because of its high concentrations of anthocyanins, which may have various health benefits. The United States' National Institutes of Health (NIH) cautions, "There’s not enough scientific evidence to support the use of bilberry for any health conditions."

In cooking, the bilberry fruit is commonly used for the same purposes as the American blueberry, such as pies, cakes, jams, muffins, cookies, sauces, syrups, juices, and candies.


In traditional medicine, bilberry leaf is used for different conditions, including diarrhea, scurvy, infections, burns, and diabetes.

Confusion between European blueberries and American blueberries

Since many people refer to "blueberries" whether they mean the bilberry (European blueberry) Vaccinium myrtillus or the American blueberries Vaccinium corymbosum, there is confusion about the two closely similar fruits. One can distinguish the European species from their American counterpart by the following differences:

  • European blueberries have dark red, strongly fragrant flesh and red juice that turns blue in basic environments; American blueberries have white or translucent, mildly fragrant flesh
  • European blueberries grow on low bushes with solitary fruits, and are found wild in heathland in the Northern Hemisphere; American blueberries grow on large bushes with the fruit in bunches
  • European blueberries are usually harvested from wild plants, while the American counterpart is usually cultivated and are widely available commercially
  • cultivated American blueberries often come from hybrid cultivars, developed about 100 years ago by agricultural specialists, most prominently Elizabeth Coleman White, to meet growing consumer demand; the bushes grow taller and are easier to harvest
  • bilberry fruit will stain hands, teeth and tongue deep blue or purple while eating (it was used as a dye for food and clothes), while American blueberries have flesh of a less intense color, and are thus less staining
  • when cooked as a dessert, European blueberries have a much stronger, more tart flavor and a rougher texture than American blueberries

Adding to the confusion is the fact there are also wild American blueberry varieties, sold in stores mainly in the US and Canada. These are uncommon outside of North America. Even more confusion is due to the huckleberry name, which originates from English dialectal names 'hurtleberry' and 'whortleberry' for the bilberry. In the Scandinavian languages Vaccinium myrtillus is called blåbär (or blåbær), which literally means blueberry. Therefore many Scandinavians will call bilberry blueberry when speaking English. This adds to the confusion.

See also

  • Blaeberry River
  • Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon grape)
  • Myrtus


Further reading

  • Mykkänen, Otto T.; Mykkänen, Hannu; Kirjavainen, Pirkka V.; Huotari, Anne; Dunlop, Thomas W.; Herzig, Karl-Heinz (12 December 2014). "Wild Blueberries (Vaccinium myrtillus) Alleviate Inflammation and Hypertension Associated with Developing Obesity in Mice Fed with a High-Fat Diet". PLOS ONE. 9 (12): e114790. Bibcode:2014PLoSO...9k4790M. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0114790. PMC 4264776. PMID 25501421. Retrieved 27 April 2015.
  • Saponjac, Vesna Tumbas; Canadanovic-Brunet, Jasna; Cetkovic, Gordana (May 2015). "Dried bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus L.) extract fractions as antioxidants and cancer cell growth inhibitors". LWT- Food Science and Technology. 61 (2): 615–621. doi:10.1016/j.lwt.2014.04.021.

External links

  • United States Department of Agriculture plants profile- Vaccinium myrtillus
  • United States National Institute of Health: Bilberry webpage



WWW info

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Blue whortleberry
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Vaccinium myrtillus [L.]