Bilberry, close relative of the blueberry and huckleberry, is a wild berry bush normally seen in Ireland, Scotland, and nearby places. Although the berries can be eaten, they are more likely to become jellies, juices, or pie fillings, and sometimes even become liquors and flavor syrups.
The bilberry is thought to have antioxidant properties. Some have claimed it improved gastrointestinal difficulties, night vision, and a host of other disorders. While most of this has not been clinically proven, some researchers have claimed it can reduce symptoms of macular degeneration.
Because the berries contain tannins, which are astringents, it is said they have anti-diarrhea properties and can be of benefit when applied topically to wounds. However, when taken with laxatives, bilberry may increase the laxative effect, and there is little supporting evidence in favor of using bilberry in this manner.
Bilberry has also been used to help control blood glucose levels in diabetics, and there are currently studies being conducted that may indicate its effectiveness. If it does, indeed, have potential to help diabetics, it should be taken with extreme caution so as not to lower blood glucose in those taking insulin or those who suffer from hypoglycemia.
The antioxidant properties of bilberry may have merit, if antioxidants themselves turn out to have merit—there are still studies being done to determine this. As an antioxidant, bilberry will bond to free radicals that cause any number of debilitating illnesses, from cancer to heart disease to atherosclerosis. More research needs to be conducted on antioxidants in general, but it is known that the berries contain resveratrol, the much-touted antioxidant in red wine.
Other claims for bilberry include treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome, ulcers, night vision, and even nearsightnedness, none of which have any supporting empirical evidence.