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Bilberry

Edible Edible Summer Summer

Bilberries are very hard to gather in large amounts, not due to their size or quantity but because they taste so good we haven’t managed to leave a Bilberry spot without all our pickings being eaten and, it appears smeared all over our faces and hands.

Hedgerow Type
Common Names Bilberry, Blaeberry, Whortleberry, Whinberry, Windberry, Myrtle Berry
Scientific Name Vaccinium myrtillus
Season Start Jul
Season End Sep
Please note that each and every hedgerow item you come across may vary in appearance to these photos.

Leaves

Small, ovate, shiny green slightly toothed leaves, often red or with red areas.

Flowers

Has tiny delicate pink/red flowers looking a bit like small, hollow, unripe berries.

Fruit

The berries are very dark blue, almost black with a white ‘bloom’ that can make them appear lighter. There is often the remains of the flower surrounding a tiny ‘cog wheel’ on the end of the berry.

Habitat

Heaths, moors and some woodland, the Bilberry prefers acid rich, nutrient poor soil.

Possible Confusion

When the berries are out, combined with the leaf shape, it is difficult to confuse this plant with other heathland species.

Taste

Wonderful, like blueberries but with a deeper, richer flavour.

Frequency

Fairly common in acid rich woodland.

Collecting

It is traditional to start collecting Bilberries on the last Sunday in July or the first Sunday in August, depending where you are in the UK.

Medicinal Uses

There are reports of the RAF using Bilberries to help with night vision during bombing raids but this appears to be a story linked to carrots which were said to be used by the RAF in an attempt to conceal the fact Britain had radar. That said Bilberries have been used for different eye treatments through the ages.

The plant has also been used to treat chronic fatigue, gout, hemorrhoids, diabetes, urinary tract infections and osteoarthritis.

COMMENTS

29 comments for Bilberry

  1. jane davis says:

    Love Bilberries so much nicer than Blueberries…they are a faff to pick but get the kids into it and it’s just fun and if you have any left a bilberry tart is to die for…I’m salivating! Bring on the harvest!

  2. Pam Brierley says:

    Where do you find them? As a child in the 50s we always had them but they’re like gold dust now, my greengrocer has t seen any for over 2 years!

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      Hi Pam, they are quite common but it is usually hard to spot your first berry as they hide among the leaves. they can be found on heaths, moors and some woodland and prefers acid rich, nutrient poor soil. Eric.

  3. Jane Frampton says:

    Recipes please for windberries ???

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      Hi Jane, we are always looking for new recipes but with Bilberries I can never leave the woods with any apart from what I’ve eaten which is all of them. Eric.

      1. Pip cornelius says:

        My childhood memory from the 60’s is windberry (wimbrey) pie with custard or cream. Very simple to make with shortcrust pastry and eating just warm… Heavenly!

  4. Rosemary Ellis says:

    Grew up eating teas of bilberry jam on cutrounds with clotted cream – all homemade by Mother. Non-Westcountry family would especially ask for this when visiting during the season – having helped us go out to gather them on Exmoor for more jam and pie making later. 🙂

  5. Melanie Cutts says:

    Windberry tart is one of my childhood favourites.

  6. Mrs. Sue E. Feeney says:

    How this takes me back to my childhood almost 60 years ago and picking these with my Nan in Dudley on the Old Park (now a large housing estate) in the 1950’s. Then it was the place we went to pick dandelions, elderberries, blackberries and all the natural stuff that grew and was turned into wines, puddings, pies etc throughout the summer and autumn . Nan used to preserve stuff in big jars down in the cellar and in china barrels painted with flower decorations which sat upon the shelves. There were partridges & lots of other wild birds about on the Old Park which stretched for miles from behind Wellington Road down towards Pensnett and Gornal and occasional signs warning of “Underground Fire” which were scary. I never understood what it was. My Nan was a wonderful cook and I can remember the lovely taste of bilberry pie and how it stained everything it touched a purply blue colour. It was a so much nicer taste than the taste of blueberries and had a unique flavour. Happy times when food and everything else was more natural and we were so much more content with what we had. If only I had a time machine …….!

  7. Dave says:

    There are by brinham rocks, by Leeds Bradford airport, but exactly where, I don’t know as people keep it secret, lots by airport apparently, loads , buckets full.

    1. Ed says:

      Been to ilkley moor today where there used to be good pickings (bilberries have always been hit and miss) unfortunately the bracken doesn’t seem to be controlled anymore, so it was very slim pickings, looks like the sheep had cropped the few bushes we found. Got about 100g of small and quite possibly sour berries, which is a bit rubbish. Might have a go a blubberhouses and motley chevron soon.

  8. AllyCbytheSea says:

    We used to pick these as small children in the early 70’s on the North Yorkshire moors.
    My sister now lives in the Shropshire hills and they call them whinberries.
    I’m off to Somerset next week where apparently they call them by the lovely name of whortleberries. I fear it will be too early in the year to sample them might just have to buy some jam instead

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      I was picking ripe bilberries on Dartmoor on the 29th June this year so you should find some in Somerset.

      1. Clare Hughes says:

        Heading to Dartmore from Kingsbridge for a look and a pick this week.
        It’ll be my first time and not sure where to start. Was thinking around the Avon Dam? Any advice?

        1. Eric Biggane says:

          You should be able to find Bilberries all over Dartmoor, the hardest thing is spotting your first berry, not every plant is covered in them so you have to hunt about a little. It’s a long way from Avon Dam but I know there are lots on the hillside behind the Warren House Inn on the Postbridge road.

  9. Edyta Wojtal says:

    Hello people , pls,pls,pls send some more info about where to go to pick them up , as I live near london it is nothing aroun and I would lobe to pick some for me and my family, bilberrys ar my childhood fantastic memories, we just poped in to the wood behind my uncle house and have most amazing time , just add sugar in a cup and mixed them all together, best treat ever
    Thanks for any info

  10. Joanne says:

    I had an idyllic afternoon last week with my daughter, picking them on the moors on the edge of Derbyshire, near Glossop. I’m eating some right now, just a good handful on top of my toast. They roll off & drop on the floor & i have to save every one, because they take a long time to pick! Daughter is freezing hers & using them for my 60th birthday cake in September.

  11. Jack says:

    Does anyone know if there are any places in Norfolk where Bilberries grow? I am from North Yorkshire and grew up picking and eating every year. I really miss them and Blueberries just don’t cut it.

  12. Jill Foster says:

    My husband and I have just spent a lovely anniversary taking in the views of North Yorkshire Moors which has been topped off by bilberry picking.
    First time I’ve done it since childhood.
    My husband is originally from Manchester and calls them Win-berries.
    Lovely day! Yorkshire is Gods country.

  13. J Humphrey says:

    Oh echo’s of my youth when you could buy them off a cart in the street. Anyone who says they are just small blueberries has never had a bilberry pie. They are to die for.

  14. Simon Callaghan says:

    Picking bilberries here in West Yorkshire last weekend, 26th & 27th September. Not known them as late as this before. Global warming?

  15. A scott says:

    Went to Sutton Bank yesterday, surprised to find bilberries on top. Not the best specimen, but enough to make a couple of crumbles. Delicious with custard. 😋

  16. Barry says:

    I have a large wild garden of heather and rough grass situated on a steep hillside at about 1,000 feet up on the edge of the Pennines in Shepley, West Yorkshire. In July/August we had the usual abundant crop of bilberries, followed by a bumper crop of blackberries in September. But this year, 2020, for the first time in my memory we have had a second, delicious crop of bilberries right now in mid-November!! So what’s happening? Is it global warming (as Simon says, 3rd October) or what else? An answer from one of the professionals somewhere would be helpful . . . . 😊

  17. Geoffrey Molloy says:

    My father was a wholesaler in Smithfield Market in Manchester before the war and used to import large quantities of bilberry. We ate plenty at home (especially in pies), but picking one’s own on the moors was never very productiive. All imports were from Poland and he bought them on the docks in Hull, but also much from Covent Garden as they were pretty much unknown in the South and all the those imported into London were sent straight to Manchester and other northern cities. It is only latterly that “Blueberries” have become fashionable (one suspects under American influences) in this country. Personally, I buy frozen “blueberries” imported from European countries: they freeze very well and taste as good as “fresh” (imported) ones on the market, but not quite like my old time “Bilberries”. Unfortunately, I am too far past my prime to search the moors “up North”.

  18. Nineen says:

    Do you know where I can buy the frozen ones? I live in Reading Berks. I haven’t had bilberries for years.

  19. Richard Asendrych says:

    In Poland and I suspect Germany and Scandinavian countries you can buy them in markets,
    Once COVID over you could go on hols, and feast,
    I pick loads, freeze them and make jam too, have in porridge, gosh is it nice.

    Gatero if u play last day on earth, game.

  20. Jenny barker says:

    Just found loads of bilberrries on Bodmin moor
    Years ago I used to pick them on the lickey hills near Birmingham

  21. Helen Clarke says:

    Mega year for bilberries on the moors in the North of England. I’ve got 20lbs in my freezer and I could pick the same again 10 times over on my patch.

  22. Graham says:

    Just been to Sunnyside in Coquetdale and the woods are full of the things! Unfortunately, I didn’t know what they were until I got home and checked – could kick myself! I picked a sprig to help with identification which just happened to have about half a dozen berries on it, everyone is correct – they are lovely! Maybe go back next week and pick up a bucket load or two 😁.

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