What IS a Bilberry?
Bilberry is also known as Blaeberry, Whortleberry, Whinberry, Winberry, Wimberry, Myrtle blueberry, Black hearts and Fraughan. Bilberries are DIFFERENT from Blueberries but closely related. Both the berries and the leaves of this interesting plant are used in herbal medicines.
Bilberry leaves have been used to control blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Bilberry extract can also help protect the stomach against ulcers. It stimulates production of stomach mucus, which protects against digestive acids. And because it relaxes muscles, it can help relieve menstrual cramps.
In folk medicine, Bilberry leaves were used to treat gastrointestinal ailments, applied topically, or made into infusions. Bilberry leaves are also used as a tonic to prevent some infections and skin diseases. The berries contain compounds called anthocyanosides, which are known to strengthen blood vessels and improve circulation, and can be useful in treating eye disorders, such as diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, and glaucoma, and circulation disorders, such as varicose veins and hemorrhoids. These same compounds also strengthen the retina, the part of the eye that controls night vision and helps the eye adapt to light changes. Bilberries are often said to help night vision and, it is said, that during World War II, British fighter pilots ate Bilberries before going on nightly bombing raids because their night vision improved as a result.
Dried Bilberries have been used for many years to treat diarrhea. The dried berry is high in tannin, which helps control and reduce the intestinal inflammation that can cause diarrhea.
Tips for Growing Bilberry from Seed:
Soak the berries in water overnight. The easiest way to do this is to put the berries in a jar, pour water over them, let them sit over night.
In the morning pour the soaked berries through a sieve, smash the berries inside the sieve, then put the mashed berries in a bowl or small bucket of water, stir them around in the water, at which point the flesh will float and the seeds will sink.
Pour off the majority of the water and the flesh of the berries. Finally, pour the water and the seeds into a sieve that is lined with a paper towel. Allow this to drain, and you will now have the seeds on the paper towel, and you can proceed to scoop them up and plant them!
Sow your Bilberry seeds in fall or very early spring (expect germination in the spring). You may also mix the seeds in moist medium in a sealed plastic bag or jar in the refrigerator (not the freezer) for 90 days, then remove from fridge and sow. The best conditions for germination are cool, moist shade. Sow seeds in acid loam medium. Grow out in a shaded place in pots for a year before transplanting to final location. Bilberries prefer to grow in acidic loam soil.
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