What is bilberry?
If you visit a health supply store or specialty grocery store, you may notice an unusual cherry-red fruit: the huckleberry. For residents of the Baltics and Nordic countries like Sweden, lingonberries are a staple food, especially during the holidays. In recent years, lingonberries have also become popular in the United States for their many nutritional benefits.
Lingonberry (LINGONBERRY / Vaccinium vitis-idaea L. ), also known as red fruit, red bean, Wenpu, and tooth knot , is a small and bright red berry that belongs to the same plant family ( Ericaceae ) as blueberries and cranberries. . The berry grows on a woody perennial shrub that thrives in the colder climates of the Northern Hemisphere. Huckleberries are grown and harvested in North American states such as Alaska, New York and Oregon. Bilberries also grow wild in the Canadian Pacific Northwest, Germany, Greenland, Northern Europe, Scandinavia and other regions.
Due to its global distribution, huckleberry has many nicknames. You may see this fruit called:
- Alpine cranberry Alpine cranberry
- Dry ground cranberry Dry ground cranberry
- Foxberry Foxberry
- Lingon or lingen Lingon or lingen
- Mountain cranberry Mountain cranberry
- Red whortleberry Red whortleberry
Experts are still developing effective techniques to cultivate bilberries for commercial production. Currently, most huckleberries come from locally harvested wild plants. Therefore, the fruit is not as cheap and widely available as its blueberry and cranberry relatives.
How do lingonberries taste?
Bilberries look and taste similar to cranberries. When eaten raw, they have an acidic, sour taste. Many people add sweetener when cooking lingonberries to make them taste more palatable.
For best flavor, harvest huckleberries after a frost.
What are the uses of bilberries?
The versatile bilberry has many uses, both as food and medicine. They play an important role in the diet of many Scandinavians. For example, lingonberry sauce is often served with Swedish meatballs.
You can eat huckleberries fresh or use them to create many beverages and foods, including:
- ice cream
Many people also add lingonberries to cheese dishes and dishes made with chicken, ham, pork, turkey, game and other meats.
Bilberries may also be a valuable natural food preservative. One study found that the fruit has antifungal properties that help prevent the growth of harmful bacteria in low-sugar fruit spreads and other foods.
Bilberries also have many medicinal uses. For example, women often drink bilberry juice to treat recurring urinary tract infections. This fruit can also help strengthen the immune system and reduce susceptibility to disease and infection.
Finally, some gardeners and landscapers grow huckleberry bushes as ornamental groundcovers.
What are the nutritional values of bilberries?
Bilberries are a superfood containing many beneficial minerals and vitamins. One hundred grams of fresh bilberries contain the following nutrients:
- Carbohydrates: 11.5 grams
- Dietary fiber: 3.7 grams
- Fat: 1.2 grams
- Water: 86.3 grams
- Vitamin C: 11.0 mg
- Vitamin E: 1.60 mg
- Potassium: 89.0 mg
- Calcium: 20.00 mg
- Phosphorus: 16.0 mg
- Magnesium: 9.00 mg
Bilberries contain a lot of water, so they are an easy and delicious source of hydration during hot weather. They also contain dietary fiber, which helps control weight and regulate the digestive system.
This fruit is also an excellent source of many essential vitamins such as C and E. Vitamin C helps the immune system function properly and helps prevent and treat the common cold, depression, scurvy, skin infections and many other illnesses. Bilberries also contain vitamin E, which can build muscle and treat conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy, heart failure and pregnancy complications.
Additionally, lingonberries are a great source of four essential minerals. They contain high amounts of potassium, a mineral that helps with muscle contraction and many other body functions. This fruit also provides calcium and phosphorus, two minerals that play a vital role in bone and tooth health. Finally, lingonberries are an excellent source of magnesium, a mineral that helps the digestive system, muscles, and nervous system function properly.
What are the health benefits of bilberries?
In addition to being rich in nutrients, lingonberries can help prevent and treat many common health problems. Recent research shows that this fruit has many health benefits, including:
- Weight control. One trial on mice found that bilberries can prevent many of the adverse effects of a high-fat diet. For example, mice that ate bilberries avoided increased blood sugar levels, cholesterol, and visceral fat.
- Fight cancer cells. Bilberries contain many antioxidants, molecules that can reduce cell damage caused by oxygen. Studies show that consuming bilberries helps kill cancer cells because of their antioxidant properties.
- Improve cardiovascular health. Regular consumption of even moderate amounts of bilberries may enhance cardiovascular health by increasing HDL cholesterol levels and lowering blood pressure.
- Prevent colon cancer. Eating lingonberries and other antioxidant-rich berries may prevent colorectal cancer.
- Protect eye health. Eating fruits that contain high amounts of antioxidants can improve your vision health. Research shows that antioxidants can help prevent glaucoma and premature retinopathy (a disease that damages the retina).
- Reduce inflammation. One study on mice showed that bilberries can reduce mild inflammation.
- Treat diabetes. Bilberries contain polysaccharides that inhibit alpha-glucosidase activity, thereby lowering blood sugar levels. Therefore, this fruit may help prevent and control type 2 diabetes.
More research is needed to determine the full health effects of bilberries. However, these studies show that adding lingonberries to your diet can easily boost your overall health and stave off many serious health problems.
What are the side effects of bilberries?
Adverse effects of bilberry are rare. Known side effects of consuming fruit include:
- allergic reaction. One case study reported a woman who experienced an allergic reaction after consuming lingonberry jam. The authors note that this is the first known allergic reaction to bilberry.
- Nausea: Two studies found that participants felt nauseated after eating berries from the bilberry family, which includes lingonberries. However, subjects in similar trials reported no side effects after consuming the berries.
Despite these uncommon side effects, bilberries are an increasingly popular fruit that may reduce the likelihood of a variety of illnesses. Add this antioxidant-rich food to your diet today and start enjoying the nutritional benefits.