Bilberry Poisonous?
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Larry Deroo
Posted on: December 20, 1999

Can you tell me why on your ordering information you list Vaccinium myrtillus (bilberry) as a poisonous plant? I would like to buy some seed packet to plant and eventually make bilberry jelly and add to grapes to make wine.

Our warning is perhaps too strong. It applies to use of the leaf, not the fruit. There is some concern about some side effects of chronic high doses of the leaf; but a recent review of the literature concluded that "...it is impossible to come up with a final verdict on the toxic potential of Vaccinium myrtillus leaves without the aid of new toxicological investigations."

The American Herbal Products Association rates the fruit as a "1" in its "Botanical Safety Handbook". This rating is for herbs that "can be safely consumed when used appropriately."

We should add that bilberry is very difficult to raise from seeds. The seeds naturally enter a dormant state which can last for a year or more. A cold treatment, such as what the seeds are normally exposed to over winter, is recommended to induce germination. Even when germination is successful, the seedlings can be difficult to raise to maturity.

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