Whilst the RAF night vision story has been the subject of much controversy over the years, it did lead to some serious scientific research from the 1960’s onwards into the effectiveness of Bilberries in eye health.
The Bilberry is extremely rich in the phytochemicals anthocyanosides – powerful antioxidants that have been found to have positive effects on vision in low lighting conditions. Anthocyanosides are responsible for the regeneration of rhodopsin, a purple pigment in the eye which is responsible for night vision. Bilberries also improve the blood flow to the many small capillaries of the eye.
One study was conducted to ascertain the effectiveness of Bilberries for cell damage in the retina after exposure to blue light. Damage to these retinal cells can make it difficult to distinguish between shapes and colours and it was found that Bilberry did indeed protect the cells from damage due to light exposure.
A Russian animal study done in 2005 showed that Bilberry extract was effective for age related vision problems in rats. Done on a strain of rats that have been used since the 1970’s for eye research, they are prone to developing age related eye problems due to their genetics. Researchers found that the group of rats who were fed Bilberry extract for 25% of their diet “completely prevented impairments in the lenses and retina.” In the control group, 70% had macular degeneration and cataracts after 3 months. The researchers concluded that, “Bilberries pose a viable complement in the venue of treating ocular disease and conditions.”
Bilberries contain 5% to 10% tannins, which act as an astringent and it is these tannins that target the bowel, reducing intestinal inflammation, helping to treat diarrhoea.
The anthocyanins present in Bilberries increase stomach mucous which allows more complete breakdown of food. The increased stomach mucous also helps in the healing of stomach ulcers. The US National Institute of Health (NIH) recognises the health value of this berry and support its use for healing stomach ulcers.
Although more research is needed, preliminary studies show that the anthocyanosides present in Bilberries may strengthen blood vessels, improve circulation, and prevent the oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol, a major risk factor for atherosclerosis (plaque that blocks blood vessels, leading to heart attack and stroke).
The anthocyanins in Bilberries are responsible for their rich purple colour. Anthocyanins are members of a flavonoid group of phytochemicals that are extensively studied for their contribution to human health. Powerfully antioxidant, one of their most important health benefits is the ability to scavenge free radicals. Free radicals are rogue atoms or atomic groups that have lost at least one electron, forcing them to steal electrons from neighbouring molecules in the hope of stabilising themselves. Unsurprisingly, this can cause havoc in the body, leading to a whole host of health problems. Anthocyanins seek out these groups and donate electrons, stabilising the atoms, protecting cells from damage (oxidative stress) and neutralising free radicals.
Folklore and history
Bilberry makes its debut in written history back in Roman times, when Pliny the Elder specifically mentioned this fruit in a surviving written source. Dioscorides, the notable Roman physician of Greek origin, recommended Bilberries for the treatment of dysentry.
By the Middle Ages, Bilberries were considered to have astringent, tonic and cleansing properties. They were traditionally used in many European countries to treat diarrhoea, hemorrhoids, gastrointestinal inflammation, scurvy and urinary complaints.
Bilberries were also used in ancient times for dying clothes, particularly by the Celts and Scandinavians.
Bilberry is a relation of the North American blueberry, the cranberry and huckleberry, whose leaves and berries have been used traditionally for centuries. The leaves were used as a folk remedy for diabetes and the berries were used by Elizabethan apothecaries to make a syrup with honey called “Rob” to treat diarrhoea. This use seems to have been confirmed, with the German Commission E (a panel of experts that assess the safety and effective of herbs), who approved the use of Bilberry for diarrhoea and inflammation of the mouth or throat.
Bilberry’s claim to fame goes back to World War II when RAF pilots are said to have eaten Bilberry jam before night raids. The RAF reportedly found that it improved their night vision and it is said that this was the reason for their incredible accuracy.
Fresh Bilberries are delicious eaten straight, added to smoothies or baked in a Bilberry Pie.
Bilberry Fruit Powder can be added to smoothies, used in raw chocolate and cake making or added to yoghurt and cereals.
Vitamins: E, C, and K. Minerals: Copper, Manganese, Calcium, Phosphorus, Iron
Phytochemicals: anthocyanins, flavonoids, hydroquinone, oleanolic acid, neomyrtillin, sodium, tannins, and ursolic acid
No known side effects. However if you are taking any prescription medications (especially for blood thinning), please consult your healthcare professional before using Bilberry.