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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

19 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.

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