Bilberries are found abundantly in mountainous districts of Europe - including Britain – Siberia, and Barbary. Bilberries flourish best on high grounds, being therefore more abundant in the north and west than in the south and east of England: they are absent from the low-lying counties, but on the Surrey hills, where they are called 'Hurts,' they cover the ground for miles.
Bilberry is a small branched shrub, with wiry, angular branches. It rarely grows over a foot high and bears globular wax-like flowers and black berries, which are covered when quite ripe with a delicate grey bloom, hence its name in Scotland, 'Blea-berry,' from an old North Countryword, 'blae,' meaning ‘livid’ or ‘bluish’. The name Bilberry is derived from the Danish 'bollebar,' meaning ‘dark berry’, although there is a variety with white fruits.
The leathery leaves are rosy at first, turning yellowish-green, and in autumn turn red and are very ornamental. The fruit is globular, with a flat top, about the size of a black currant. When eaten raw, they have a slightly acidic taste. Quinic acid is found in the leaves, as well as a little tannin.
The ripe fruit and leaves are used medicinally, the leaves being used in the same way as those of Uva Ursi. The fruits are astringent, and are used for treating diarrhoea and dysentery in the form of syrup. They are also used for discharges, and a decoction of the leaves or bark of the root may be used as a local application to ulcers, and for ulceration of the mouth and throat. The fruit is helpful in treating scurvy and urinary complaints, and a tea made of the leaves is also a remedy for diabetes if taken for a prolonged period.
The herb is a strong antioxidant and contains anthocyanosides that have been found to assist in keeping capillaries strong, protect against
cataracts, night blindness (as well as other vision problems), and improve circulation. Bilberry may also inhibit the growth of bacteria and act as an anti-inflammatory, as well as having anticarcinogenic properties.