Bilberry, Vaccinium myrtillus, is a round flat-topped berry that grows in the wild. It has sharp edged, green branches and black wrinkled berries, which are ripe for picking in late summer. It is closely related to the blueberry however bilberries are darker in colour, and usually appear near black with a slight shade of purple. Bilberry fruit contains anthocyanosides which are plant pigments that have excellent antioxidant properties.
Bilberries are native to Northern Europe and are found in very acidic, nutrient-poor soils. The fruits are mostly collected from wild plants as bilberries are difficult to cultivate and grow.
The flavonoids found within bilberries are absorbed via the gut wall. Two major sites of flavonoid metabolism are the liver and the colonic flora. Absorbed flavonoids are eliminated only slowly from the blood.
There are many different factors that influence the absorption and use of antioxidants including the form it is consumed in, the amount consumed, other foods consumed at the same time, the mix of bacteria in our gut, genetics, our health status and age.
The active constituents of bilberry are water soluble so may be sensitive to heat.
Antioxidants can also be destroyed through heating and cooking of food, therefore removing the free radical scavenging health benefits.