Blueberry, Bilberry, Huckleberry

Vaccinium myrtillus

Blueberry, Bilberry, Huckleberry

“Bilberry anthocyanosides appear to strengthen capillaries by protecting them from free radical damage and by stimulating growth of healthy connective tissue.”

Type: Nourishing tonic

Properties: Antioxidant

Part Used: The berries, gathered when ripe, dried, frozen, or made into juice. (The leaves are not useful for the heart.)

Preparation and Dose: Best cooked into delicious deserts, but blueberry cordial, made with

fresh or dried blueberries and 100 proof vodka, is very nice indeed. Unless eaten the day they

are picked, fresh berries are less nutritious than frozen ones. Most studies are done with heattreated


Blueberry contains: Vitamins B2, B3, B5, C, E, K, carotenes, and folates (folic acid); calcium, iron,

magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, and zinc; polyphenols, flavonoids,

ellagic acid, tannins; fiber.

Cautions: None. May be consumed without limit.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and other journals acknowledge that placebo controlled trials have confirmed what herbalists have known for centuries: eating fruits from the Vaccinium genus, especially bilberries (Europe), blueberries and huckleberries (North America) leads to improved blood vessel functioning.

Elasticity of blood vessels improves within an hour after ingesting a blueberry drink; it improves further after two hours, and still more six hours after consumption. Doses of 3.5 ounces, 8.5 ounces, and higher amounts gave about the same increase in flexibility.

The most active constituents – polyphenols, including flavonoids, and anthocyanins – are found in many colorful plant foods. The Antioxidants Research Laboratory at Tufts’ has found that regular daily consumption of flavonoids from plant foods such as berries, green tea, dark chocolate, and red wine can “possibly reduce the risk of major chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer.”

Blueberry flavonoids inhibit an enzyme that reduces nitric-oxide levels in the blood. This double-negative boosts the availability of nitric-oxide, a compound which allows blood vessels to dilate, thus keeping blood pressure low and reducing the risk of stroke.

David Winston of Herbalist and Alchemist and David Hoffmann are two herbalists who love blueberry. Hoffmann cites studies with excellent outcomes involving patients with a variety of circulatory problems – presenting in the eyes, the kidneys, the legs – “so long as capillary wall pathology is involved.” He suggests bilberry for those dealing with “capillary rigidity and permeability-related pathologies such as hypertension, advanced diabetes, arteriosclerosis, purpurea, brain circulation disorder, kidney hematuria, and bleeding gums.”

Hoffmann says laboratory research has confirmed that regular ingestion of bilberries

• increases the strength of the capillaries and reduces their permeability

• Inhibits edema

• protects the heart against stressful exertion

• activates the enzyme lactic dehydrogenase

• inhibits atherosclerosis

Further, he says, bilberry stimulates peripheral circulation, especially to the eyes. Disorders of the blood vessels in the eyes in diabetic patients may be resolved with the addition of bilberry to the diet.

Note that the scientific studies used blueberry juice, and that herbalists use dried, not raw, blueberries. For greatest heart benefit, at the least expense, I choose frozen wild blueberries, available at most major supermarkets. I also buy local blueberries in season and keep them in the freezer. The compounds responsible for heart health are poorly utilized from raw berries.

(And the risk of food-borne disease, including hepatitis, is great when eating raw berries.)

Hawthorn, apples, plums, cherries, cranberries, elderberries, and blackberries also contain large amounts of flavonoids and anthocyanins, and are wonderful for the heart.

And remember that all berries give your heart a helping hand. For instance, one glass of

cranberry juice daily has been shown to protect the heart and blood vessels by

• Reducing LDL cholesterol

• Increasing HDL cholesterol

• Combating oxidative stress

• Reducing atherosclerosis

• Increasing nitric oxide

• Improving blood vessel dilation

• Reducing concentrations of inflammatory compounds

• Decreasing inflammation

• Improving the function of the lining of the blood vessels

• Reducing arterial stiffness

“Research Backs Blueberries Heart Benefits,” Tufts Health Letter, Nov. 2010.

“Blueberries Found to Boost Blood-Vessel Function,” Tufts Health Letter, Dec. 2013.

“Adulteration of Commercial Bilberry Extract,” HerbalGram, Jan. 2013.