Vaccinium myrtillus

Vaccinium myrtillus or European blueberry is a holarctic species of shrub with edible fruit of blue color, known by the common names bilberry, blaeberry, wimberry, and whortleberry.[3] It is more precisely called common bilberry or blue whortleberry, to distinguish it from other Vaccinium relatives. Regional names include blaeberry (Scotland & Northern England), urts or hurts (Cornwall & Devon),[4] hurtleberry,[5] huckleberry, myrtleberry,[6] wimberry, whinberry, winberry,[7] blueberry,[8] and fraughan.[9] Chromosome count is 2n =24.[10] Vaccinium myrtillus has much in common with the American blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum).

Vaccinium myrtillus
203 Vaccinum myrtillus L.jpg
1891 illustration[1]
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Ericales
Family: Ericaceae
Genus: Vaccinium
Subgenus: Vaccinium subg. Vaccinium
Section: Vaccinium sect. Myrtillus
V. myrtillus
Binomial name
Vaccinium myrtillus
L. 1753
  • Myrtillus niger Gilib.
  • Myrtillus sylvaticus Drejer
  • Vaccinium oreophilum Rydb.
  • Vitis-idaea myrtillus (L.) Moench


The flowers are borne singly in leaf axils on 2–3 mm long pedicels. The corolla is pink and shaped like an urn. The leaves are finely toothed and prominently veined on the lower surface.

Vaccinium myrtillus is a holarctic species native to Continental Northern Europe, the British Isles and Ireland, northern Asia, Japan, Greenland, Iceland, Western Canada, and the Western United States. It occurs in the acidic soils of heaths, boggy barrens, degraded meadows, open forests and parklands, hummocky seepage slopes, and moraines.[11][12]


Bilberries above Merthyr Tydfil, on Mynydd Aberdâr


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.[13] 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.[3] Researchers are interested in bilberry because of its high concentrations of anthocyanins, which may have various health benefits.[3] 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."[3]

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.[3]


In traditional medicine, bilberry leaf is used for different conditions, including diarrhea, scurvy, infections, burns, and diabetes.[3]

Confusion between European blueberries and American blueberriesEdit

Since many people refer to "blueberries" whether they intend to refer to the bilberry (European blueberry) Vaccinium myrtillus or the American blueberries Vaccinium corymbosum, there is confusion about the two closely similar fruits. For instance, in the Scandinavian languages, Vaccinium myrtillus and other bilberries are called blåbär (or blåbær), which literally means blueberry. Therefore many Scandinavians will refer to a bilberry as a "blueberry", when speaking English.

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.

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),[14] 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

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ illustration by Amédée Masclef, published in Atlas des plantes de France. 1891
  2. ^ The Plant List, Vaccinium myrtillus L.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Bilberry : Science and Safety | NCCIH". Retrieved 2018-03-19.
  4. ^ Phillipps, K. C. (1993). A Glossary of the Cornish Dialect. Padstow: Tabb House. p. 57. ISBN 0907018912.
  5. ^ "Vaccinium myrtillus". Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Retrieved 12 December 2017. citing Wiersema, J. H. & B. León (1999), World economic plants: a standard reference, and Huxley, A., ed. (1992), The new Royal Horticultural Society dictionary of gardening
  6. ^ "Bilberry, Blaeberry, Whortleberry, Whinberry, Windberry, Myrtle Berry, Vaccinium myrtillus". Wild Food UK. Retrieved 2020-07-31.
  7. ^ Henley, Jon. Bilberries: the true taste of northern England, The Guardian, Monday 9 June 2008
  8. ^ Grigson, Geoffrey (1975). The Englishman's Flora. Paladin. p. 281. ISBN 0586082093.
  9. ^ "Fraughan is an anglicisation of the Irish word Fraochán (or heather fruit, as the plant is often found growing with heather)". té
  10. ^ Nestby, Rolf; Percival, D.; Martinussen, Inger S.; Opstad, Nina; Rohloff, Jens (2017-08-08). "The European Blueberry ( Vaccinium myrtillus L . ) and the Potential for Cultivation . A Review". Semantic Scholar. S2CID 52997599. Retrieved 2020-05-08.
  11. ^ "Vaccinium myrtillus Linnaeus". Flora of North America. Retrieved 2021-09-21.
  12. ^ "Vaccinium myrtillus L." USDA Plants Database. Retrieved 2021-09-21.
  13. ^ Vogl S, Picker P, Mihaly-Bison J, Fakhrudin N, Atanasov AG, Heiss EH, Wawrosch C, Reznicek G, Dirsch VM, Saukel J, Kopp B (2013-03-25). "Ethnopharmacological in vitro studies on Austria's folk medicine--an unexplored lore in vitro anti-inflammatory activities of 71 Austrian traditional herbal drugs". J Ethnopharmacol. 149 (3): 750–71. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2013.06.007. PMC 3791396. PMID 23770053.
  14. ^ Make Traditional Dyes - Bilberry Dye

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit