Bilberry: Is the Leaf or Fruit Most Medicinal?
Answered by: Susan Eagles
Question from: Geraldine
Posted on: September 20, 2003

First of all, I want to tell you how much I appreciate all that Richters does. It is a remarkable company and does a wonderful work for the rest of us.

Now I will ask my question:

I want to incorporate bilberry into a number of fruit recipes. Which is more effective medicinally, the fruit or the leaf? Except for Richters, I can only find Bilberry leaf to work with. Many thanks for your kind reply.

Bilberry is native to Europe. In North America, herbalists generally recommend blueberries for the medicinal actions of bilberry. The two plants are related, and their medicinal properties similar.

Both the leaves and the berries are used medicinally. Because the leaves and berries contain some of the same chemicals, some of their uses coincide. Only the berries are used for diarrhoea. Only the leaves are used for cystitis and diabetes. The berries are used for blood vessel protection. Some of the investigations into medicinal effects of bilberry were begun following the use of bilberry jam by RAF pilots during the second world war to improve their night vision.

Rudolf Weiss, MD, in "Herbal Medicine" (Beaconsfield Publishers, Beaconsfield, England), states that only the berries have anti-diarrhoeic properties. The blue pigment in the blueberry family is an anthocyanine, which inhibits the growth of bacteria. The tannins in the berries make them a good drug for diarrhoea. As an anti-diarrhoeic, a tea or juice of the berries is given. The roughage contained in the whole berry may irritate the bowel. Weiss cautions that for bowel problems, care must be taken that no sugar is added to the juice or tea. The astringent and disinfectant properties of the blueberry family also make them useful in inflammatory conditions of the mouth and throat. For these, a tea is used as a mouthwash several times daily.

Weiss states that eaten raw, bilberries have a laxative effect, as the roughage in the skins and pips override the astringent effect. He conjectures that they may have a healing effect on the inflammation of intestinal mucosa that commonly accompanies chronic constipation.

Weiss’ recipe for bilberry tea as an anti-diarrhoeic is: boil 3 tablespoons of the dried berries for 10 minutes in 1/2 litre of water, and then take a glass of the strained liquid several times a day.

The leaves are used as an anti-diabetic. Weiss warns that bilberry leaf tea should not be taken long-term, because it has a toxic effect on the liver.

Herbalist Michael Moore, in "Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West" (Red Crane Books, Santa Fe), uses the leaf tea as a disinfectant in an alkaline cystitis and to lower blood sugar in juvenile onset diabetes. He states that the anthocyanosides in the leaves have been shown to decrease blood platelet aggregation (make the blood less sticky) and decrease stomach ulceration.

Moore states that the berries also lower blood sugar, and if large quantities are eaten, hypoglycemic symptoms may appear: shaky, sweaty palms, cranky. In this case, Moore advises eating something right away.

Blueberries and other dark red or blue fruits contain anthocyanadins & proanthocyanadins, which have been shown to strengthen and protect the blood vessels and enhance the fibres in bones and tendons. They are commonly recommended by natural medicine practitionerss in diseases involving the blood vessels, like retinopathy, haemorrhoids, varicose veins, and in joint problems like arthritic diseases.

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