The moorland wild bilberry

In the month of August the moors around Lancashire and Yorkshire provide an abundance of wimberry (more frequently called bilberry). These little berries are delicious but it takes some effort in gathering them, but it is certainly worth that effort. They are ready now to harvest and if you have a few hours to spare you can gather enough to make jam – not enough time? Then perhaps gather enough to serve on your breakfast (portion is 80g), these little fruits are also likely low fodmap according to Monash – so a free, low fodmap berry that you have to exercise to find the bushes and picking them is a mindful task, a win win all round! A tip to save time in gathering them is to look for the bright green new growth on the bushes as this seems to have the larger berries. This year seems to have a bumper growth of them there are plenty to pick but I always leave enough on the bush for the local wildlife. Also do ensure that you identify these bushes correctly before foraging the fruit – see the image below.

Winberry are high in acidity so this will produce a moderate set without necessarily any addition of extra acidity and not too much additional pectin for jam making. Nutritionally they contain anthocyanins, water soluble pigments that are proposed to have antioxidant properties. A anecdote often proposed for bilberry is that it enhances night vision and was used during the second world war by pilots to enhance their vision during bombing raids (a story proposed for the carotenoids in carrots too!) A review Canter PH & Ernst E (2004) Anthocyanosides of Vaccinium myrttilus (bilberry) for Night Vision – A systematic Review of Placebo Controlled Trials Survey of Ophthalmology Volume 49 issue 1 reported the hypothesis that bilberry enhances night vision has a lack of evidence from rigorous clinical studies. Also the fact that these fruits are not going to be consumed on a regular basis will also impact on the health benefits they do have – so let’s not get overly concerned about it, just eat them for the pleasure of gathering them in summer and a the reward for your hard earned efforts! If you do collect them please ensure you know what you are looking for and positively identify them before you use them.

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