The Health Benefits of Bilberry

The Anti-Oxidant Rich Fruit May Help Reduce Inflammation

Bilberry and milk
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Bilberries are a fruit closely related to blueberries, native to Europe. Also known as whortleberry, huckleberry, or European blueberries, bilberries are often eaten fresh or made into jam, juices, or pies. Bilberries are also available in powder, juice, or supplement form.

Health Benefits

Rich in antioxidants known as anthocyanins and polyphenols, bilberries have been used for medicinal purposes for conditions ranging from eye conditions to diabetes.

Bilberry is often touted as a remedy for eye conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts, dry eyes, age-related macular degeneration, and retinitis pigmentosa.

As a source of antioxidants, bilberries are also thought to curb inflammation and protect against diseases associated with oxidative stress, such as inflammatory bowel disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, gingivitis, and age-related cognitive decline.

The anthocyanins in bilberry are said to reduce inflammation and stabilize tissues containing collagen such as cartilage, tendons, and ligaments. 

Bilberry is said to strengthen the walls of blood vessels and is sometimes taken orally for varicose veins and hemorrhoids.

So far, very few studies have tested the health effects of bilberry. Still, there’s some evidence that it shows promise in the treatment of certain conditions. Here’s a look at some findings from the available research:

Eye Fatigue

Bilberry shows promise in the treatment of eye fatigue, suggests a small study published in the Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging. In tests on 281 people who used video display terminals, researchers determined that treatment with bilberry extract may help improve both objective and subjective measures of eye fatigue.

Other Eye Conditions

Preliminary studies suggest that bilberry extract may play a possible role in the treatment of retinal disorders and other eye conditions. In studies on animals, for example, bilberry was found to protect retinal cells against degeneration.

Gingivitis (Gum Inflammation)

Bilberry may help to control gum (gingival) inflammation in people with gingivitis, according to a study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences. Participants in the study consumed either 250 grams of bilberries, 500 grams of bilberries, or a placebo, or received standard care for seven days. The researchers concluded that 500 grams of bilberries resulted in a reduction of gum inflammation.

Possible Side Effects

Although bilberry fruit is generally considered safe when consumed in amounts typically found in food, allergic reactions can occur.

Bilberries naturally contain substances known as tannins (found in many foods such as coffee, tea, red wine, blueberries, cranberries, chocolate, and some nuts and beans). If you have an allergy or sensitivity to foods containing tannin, you should avoid bilberry.

The safety of long-term use or high doses of bilberry supplements isn't known. Some experts caution that use of large amounts of highly concentrated bilberry supplements may result in adverse effects related to the excessive intake of tannins.

Bilberry fruit and bilberry leaf extracts can reduce blood sugar levels.

Pregnant or nursing women should avoid bilberry extracts, as safety isn't known.

It's important to keep in mind that supplements aren't tested for safety, adverse reactions are often not reported, and that dietary supplements are largely unregulated.

Anthocyanins may inhibit drugs such as anticancer medications, antibiotics, beta blockers, an arthritis medication. High flavonoid intake from bilberry supplements could theoretically increase the risk of bleeding when taken with blood-thinning drugs like warfarin, NSAIDs, and aspirin, or when taken by people with bleeding disorders.

You can get further tips on using supplements, but it's important to note that self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care for any condition (such as glaucoma) may have serious consequences. If you're considering trying bilberry supplements, talk with your healthcare provider first to weigh the pros and cons and to discuss whether it's appropriate for you.

Dosage and Preparation

There is not enough scientific data to provide a recommended dose of bilberry. A typical dose of the dried, ripe berries is 20-60 grams daily. Sources also note that some consumers drink a type of bilberry tea made from 5-10 grams (1-2 teaspoons) of mashed bilberries.

Different amounts have been studied in research. The appropriate dose for you may depend on factors including your age, gender, and medical history. Speak to your healthcare provider to get personalized advice

What to Look For

You can find bilberries fresh, frozen, dried, powdered, or in packaged foods like jam. In addition to eating them fresh, you can try adding frozen or powdered bilberries to a smoothie or use them to make a sauce or preserves.

Bilberry supplements and bilberry extract are sold in tablets, capsules, and drops. The berries are also sold dried and as a powder. Bilberry leaves are made into teas.

If you choose to buy a bilberry supplement, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that you look for a Supplement Facts label on the product that you buy. This label will contain vital information including the amount of active ingredients per serving, and other added ingredients (like fillers, binders, and flavorings).

Lastly, the organization suggests that you look for a product that contains a seal of approval from a third party organization that provides quality testing. These organizations include U.S. Pharmacopeia, ConsumerLab.com, and NSF International. A seal of approval from one of these organizations does not guarantee the product's safety or effectiveness but it does provide assurance that the product was properly manufactured, contains the ingredients listed on the label, and does not contain harmful levels of contaminants.

While bilberry shouldn't be used as a substitute for standard treatment or preventative measures for any medical condition, in some cases, eating more bilberries (or other anthocyanin-rich fruit) may have some protective benefits.

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