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Vaccinium myrtillus - L.

Common Name Bilberry, Whortleberry
Family Ericaceae
USDA hardiness 3-7
Known Hazards High tannin content may cause digestive disorders - avoid prolonged use or high doses. Avoid in pregnancy. Avoid if on anticoagulant therapy (e.g. warfarin) [301].
Habitats Heaths, moors and woods on acid soils to 1250 metres[17, 186].
Range Europe, including Britain, from Iceland south and east to Spain, Macedonia, the Caucasus and N. Asia
Edibility Rating    (4 of 5)
Other Uses    (1 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (3 of 5)
Care (info)
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun
Vaccinium myrtillus Bilberry, Whortleberry

Vaccinium myrtillus Bilberry, Whortleberry


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The Bilberry or Whortleberry is a species of shrub with edible fruit. It has one of the richest natural sources of anthocyanins giving the bilberry its blue/black colour and with a high antioxidant content believed to be responsible for the many health benefits of bilberry and other berry fruits. In traditional European medicine, bilberry has been used for over a 1000 years.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of shrub
Vaccinium myrtillus is a deciduous Shrub growing to 0.2 m (0ft 8in) by 0.3 m (1ft).
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 3. It is in flower from April to June, and the seeds ripen from July to September. The species is hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and is pollinated by Bees, flies, Lepidoptera (Moths & Butterflies). The plant is self-fertile.
It is noted for attracting wildlife.
Suitable for: light (sandy) and medium (loamy) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: mildly acid soils and can grow in very acid soils.
It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil. The plant can tolerates strong winds but not maritime exposure.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Vaccinium myrtillus oreophilum, Vaccinium oreophilum

Plant Habitats

Woodland Garden Sunny Edge; Dappled Shade;

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Fruit  Leaves
Edible Uses: Tea

Fruit - raw or cooked[183]. Sweet and very tasty[2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 13], they make an excellent preserve, their small seeds making them suitable for jam[4]. A slightly acid flavour when eaten raw[4]. The fruit can be dried and used like currants[12]. The fruit is up to 10mm in diameter[200]. A tea is made from the leaves[4, 177, 183].

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.
Antidiarrhoeal  Antiemetic  Antiseptic  Astringent  Diuretic  Hypoglycaemic  Kidney  Ophthalmic  
Tonic  Urinary

The dried leaves of bilberries are used in the treatment of a variety of complaints[4]. These leaves should be harvested in early autumn, only green leaves being selected, and then dried in gentle heat[4]. The leaves should not be used medicinally for more than 3 weeks at a time[254]. A tea made from the dried leaves is strongly astringent, diuretic, tonic and an antiseptic for the urinary tract[4]. It is also a remedy for diabetes if taken for a prolonged period[4]. Another report says that the leaves can be helpful in pre-diabetic states but that they are not an alternative to conventional treatment[254]. The leaves contain glucoquinones, which reduce the levels of sugar in the blood[238]. A decoction of the leaves or bark is applied locally in the treatment of ulcers and in ulceration of the mouth and throat[4]. A distilled water made from the leaves is an excellent eyewash for soothing inflamed or sore eyes[7]. Whilst the fresh fruit has a slightly laxative effect upon the body, when dried it is astringent and is commonly used in the treatment of diarrhoea etc[4, 7, 254]. The dried fruit is also antibacterial and a decoction is useful for treating diarrhoea in children[254]. The skin of the fruits contains anthocyanin and is specific in the treatment of hemeralopia (day-blindness)[7]. The fruit is a rich source of anthocyanosides, which have been shown experimentally to dilate the blood vessels[238], this makes it a potentially valuable treatment for varicose veins, haemorrhoids and capillary fragility[254].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Dye  Ink

A green dye is obtained from the leaves and the fruit and is used to colour fabrics[7]. A blue or black dye is obtained from the fruit[100, 141]. This can be used as an ink[66].

Special Uses

Attracts Wildlife  Food Forest

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Requires a moist but freely-draining lime free soil, preferring one that is rich in peat or a light loamy soil with added leaf-mould[11, 200]. Prefers a very acid soil with a pH in the range of 4.5 to 6, plants soon become chlorotic when lime is present. Succeeds in full sun or light shade though it fruits better in a sunny position[17, 200]. Dislikes root disturbance, plants are best grown in pots until being planted out in their permanent positions[200].Tolerates some shade, succeeding in light woodland. Very tolerant of wind and exposure[186]. Plants do not always do well in sheltered positions and they fruit better in an exposed position[115]. They can also form the ground layer in acid woods[186]. A freely suckering shrub when growing well[182]. Plants quickly regenerate from below ground level if they are burnt and also tolerate some grazing[186]. One report says the plant is self-sterile[3], another that it is self-fertile[17]. The fruits are relished by wildlife and the plants provide food for a number of insect species[186]. Plants in this genus are notably resistant to honey fungus[200]. In garden design, as well as the above-ground architecture of a plant, root structure considerations help in choosing plants that work together for their optimal soil requirements including nutrients and water. The root pattern is flat with shallow roots spreading near the soil surface [2-1].

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

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Plant Propagation

Seed - sow late winter in a greenhouse in a lime-free potting mix and only just cover the seed[78]. Stored seed might require a period of up to 3 months cold stratification[113]. Another report says that it is best to sow the seed in a greenhouse as soon as it is ripe[200]. Once they are about 5cm tall, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in a lightly shaded position in the greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, 5 - 8cm with a heel, August in a frame[78]. Slow and difficult. Cuttings of mature wood in late autumn. Layering in late summer or early autumn[78]. Another report says that spring is the best time to layer[200]. Takes 18 months[78]. Division of suckers in spring or early autumn[113].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Abie, Arandano commun, Bagole, Biruberi, Blaeberry, Blaubeere, Blueberry, Borovnica, Charnitsa, Cherna borovinka, Chyernika, Cucoriedky, Dwarf bilberry, Eubie, Eumie, Hei guo hue jie, Heidelbeer, Jafury, Mirtillo, Mustikas, Myrtille, Whinberry, Windberry,

Native Range

TEMPERATE ASIA: Turkey (north), Russian Federation-Ciscaucasia (Ciscaucasia), Armenia, Georgia, Russian Federation (Dagestan), Russian Federation-Western Siberia (Western Siberia), Russian Federation-Eastern Siberia (Eastern Siberia), Mongolia, Japan (Honshu (north & central)) NORTHERN AMERICA: Greenland (southwest), Canada (Alberta (southwest), British Columbia (southeast)), United States (Colorado (west), Idaho, Montana (west), Oregon (north), Washington (east), Wyoming (west), New Mexico, Arizona (north), Nevada, Utah (east)) EUROPE: Denmark, Finland, United Kingdom, Ireland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Russian Federation (European part), Belarus, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Moldova, Ukraine, Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Italy, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, France, Portugal

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status :

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Vaccinium alaskaenseAlaska BlueberryShrub1.8 -  LMSNM20 
Vaccinium amoenumLarge-Cluster BlueberryShrub4.0 4-8  LMSNMWe20 
Vaccinium angustifoliumLow Sweet Blueberry, Lowbush blueberryShrub0.2 2-6  LMSNDM310
Vaccinium angustifolium laevifoliumLow Sweet BlueberryShrub0.6 2-6  LMSNDM300
Vaccinium arboreumFarkleberryTree5.0 6-9  LMSNM213
Vaccinium arbusculaDwarf bilberryShrub0.6 0-0  LMSNMWe10 
Vaccinium arctostaphylosCaucasian WhortleberryShrub3.0 5-9  LMSNM300
Vaccinium asheiRabbiteye BlueberryShrub5.0 7-10  LMSNM20 
Vaccinium australeNorthern BlueberryShrub1.5 2-7 MLMSNM412
Vaccinium bracteatumSea BilberryShrub1.0 6-9  LMSNM11 
Vaccinium brittonii Shrub2.0 -  LMSNDM10 
Vaccinium caesarienseNew Jersey blueberryShrub1.5 -  LMSNMWe20 
Vaccinium caespitosumDwarf BilberryShrub0.3 0-0  LMSNM310
Vaccinium ciliatum Shrub2.0 -  LMSNM10 
Vaccinium constablaeiHillside BlueberryShrub1.0 -  LMSNM30 
Vaccinium corymbosumHigh-Bush Blueberry, American Blueberry, Swamp Blueberry, BlueberryShrub2.0 3-8 MLMSNM410
Vaccinium crassifoliumCreeping BlueberryShrub0.1 6-9  LMSNM302
Vaccinium cylindraceum Shrub3.0 9-11  LMSNM20 
Vaccinium darrowiiDarrow's blueberryShrub0.0 0-0  LMSNDM10 
Vaccinium deliciosumAlpine Blueberry, Cascade bilberryShrub0.3 5-9  LMSNM300
Vaccinium duclouxii Shrub3.0 8-11  LMSNM30 
Vaccinium elliottiiElliott's blueberryShrub4.0 5-9  LMSNM10 
Vaccinium erythrocarpumSouthern Mountain CranberryShrub1.5 5-9  LMSNM300
Vaccinium formosumSwamp Highbush Blueberry, Southern blueberryShrub4.0 5-9  LMSNM300
Vaccinium fuscatumBlack Highbush BlueberryShrub3.5 4-8  LMSNMWe300
Vaccinium hirsutumHairy HuckleberryShrub0.0 5-9  LMSNM30 
Vaccinium hirtum Shrub1.0 5-9  LMSNM10 
Vaccinium japonicum Shrub0.7 5-9  LMSNM20 
Vaccinium koreanum Shrub0.0 -  LMSNM10 
Vaccinium leucanthum Shrub0.0 -  LMSNM10 

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


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Readers comment

J.Gray - Re: Vaccinium myrtillus website   Tue Jul 25 2006

Hello, I am wondering if you might know where I can find a Vaccinium myrtillus seedling supplier that can sell with a phytosanitary certificate? My email is [email protected] Thank you J.Gray

Jackie Read   Wed May 9 2007

Hello I am looking to source Vaccinium Myrtillus plants of local provenance, I am based in North wales if anyone can help me, my email is [email protected] Thank-you Jackie

Webster   Tue May 29 2007

Anyone know of a source for Vaccinium myrtillus? I Would love to grow it from seedling not from seed. I live in Eastern USA Thank you!

Harold Hudson   Fri Dec 7 2007

hello I would like to find the Bilberry (vaccinium myrtillus)I would like to find the plants not the seed. If any one knows where to find them please let me know.I live in Louisiana.my email is [email protected] thanks Harold Dec.7-07

Davida   Mon Dec 10 2007

I would like to find the Bilberry Plant(vaccinium myrtillus). I live in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Any information would be helpful. Thank you.

Björn Leidersdorff   Fri Feb 13 2009

Hello Could anybody help me find seedlings or seeds from Vaccinium myrtillus. the provenience must be like south-middle Sweden, Thank you. My e mail is [email protected]

david   Fri Feb 13 2009

You could try b-and-t-world-seeds.com

Karen   Tue Apr 21 2009

I am trying to locate Vaccinium myrtillus plants in the UK. Could someone please let me know where I could buy them thanx [email protected]

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