Bilberry - Vaccinium myrtillus

Bilberry - Vaccinium myrtillus

Main features

  • Found on heathland, mountains and upland areas, and in woodland

  • Prefers acidic soil

  • Reaches 10 - 50cm

  • Leaves are bright green, oval in shape, slightly shiny, slightly serrated and with short stalks

  • Leaves turn red before dropping in winter

  • Shrub is highly branched with old wood covered in wispy new growth

  • Bark is brown, new growth is green

  • Flowers are pink to muted red and balloon shaped

  • Fruit is dark blue/purple almost black

  • Fruit appears in mid-Summer

  • Spherical fruit has a raised crown-like ring on its base

  • One berry per stalk

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Bilberry - Vaccinium myrtillus

Edible shrub - novice

Other common names: Whortleberry, Winnberry, Whinberry, European Blueberry, Huckleberry, Blaeberry,  Myrtille, Windberry


Scientific name meaning: Literally meaning Whortleberry, Vaccinium is a Latin word. Myrtillus is of Greek origin from Myrtilos, meaning son of Mercury

Season Summer 

Habitat - where will I find it? Bilberry likes acidic soil and is found on mountains, moorland and heathland,  and in woodland.

It is native to the UK

Description - what does it look like? A low-growing shrub reaching 10-50cm. It is very branched and has old wood covered with thin wispy new growth.

The bark is brown, new growth is green.

Leaves are oval shaped, bright green, slightly shiny, with short stalks and mildly serrated. They turn red before falling in winter.

Flowers appear in late spring and are pink to muted red and balloon shaped. They are followed in mid-summer by dark purple/blue almost black fruits, that contain deep red flesh. The base of the spherical fruit has a raised crown-like circle on it.

There is one berry per fruit stalk

Possible lookalikes Privet may be confused with Pivet (Ligustrum spp) which has berries that are mildly toxic. However, these are in clusters, or panicles, rather than one fruit per stalk. Bog Billbery (Vaccinium uliginosum) may also be confused with Bilberry, but this prefers boggy soils, and has darker leaves that are not serrated. The fruit is also edible. Escaped cultivated Blueberries, but these are also edible

Use as a food The fruit can be eaten raw when fully ripe, and is sweet but slightly acidic. It can be used to make liqueurs.

Cooked, the fruit is used to make jams, jellies, syrups, ketchups and chutneys

Use in herbal medicine Bilberries have been used to combat many disorders, including eyesight problems, diabetes, diarrhoea, kidney disorders, atherosclerosis, and treating wounds. It has also been used as an astringent and antiseptic. Research is currently being undertaken to discover Bilberry's use in treating/preventing Alzheimer's Disease and certain cancers

If you are suffering from any ailment or need medical advice, please see your General Practitioner

Other uses Purple dyes can be made from the fruit

Hazards The berries are high in tannins so should not be consumed in excess, particularly raw. There are conflicting views of Bilberry's safety for consumption during pregnancy in medicinal doses. Because of its blood thinning quality, those on blood thinning medication or with a blood thinning disorder are advised to take caution when consuming Bilberries

Importance to other species Provides a valuable nectar source for pollinators, and abundant food source for birds

Interesting facts Is a member of the Heather family

Always stay safe when foraging. You need to be 100% sure of your identification, 100% sure that your foraged item is edible, and 100% sure that you are not allergic to it (it is good practice to always try a small amount of any new food you are consuming). If in doubt, leave it out!

Bilberry - Vaccinium myrtillus