Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Vaccinium myrtillus

A very branched 15-40 cm high dwarf-shrub with green, edgy branches, egg-shaped and serrated leaves, round red-green flowers and black blue-dewy berries. Common in thicket, high forests and on heather hills in Jutland, North Zealand and Bornholm.

The berries were from old times plucked in large numbers and eaten on the finding spot or brought home to the household or for sale. At Horsens market places were in ab. 1800 sold several hundred pots of dried bilberries each year. In the dune north of Agger (Northwest Jutland) a planter estimated in 1860 that about 50 barrels bilberry were gathered each year. Poor people from the dune districts plucked barrels full of bilberry and cranberry, old poor women got themselves a little extra earning, and the owners of the area turned usually a blind eye to the plucking. Or else it was mostly the children who were sent out to pluck, sometimes followed by the farm wife or the servant girls; they seldom asked for permission and gave no money to the owner, but it might happen that he or his foreman came up, told them off and took the berries from them. No one could get out of it by telling a lie, their coloured fingers, mouth and lips were betraying them - and when the children came home they were blue-black in the face.

Bilberry pluckers

A household with very diligent pluckers could earn 50 kroner daily, that was much at that time; a family in a parish in West Jutland sold in ab. 1900 in one summer bilberries for 1000 kroner, and that was a fortune. A young girl gathered bilberry from first August till late October 1929 and earned money for her bridalwear. In the year 1967 was in a Copenhagen market place sold 5.600 kilo bilberry.

Food and Wine
Berries were eaten fresh with milk and sugar like strawberries, berries were dried in the oven and kept in bags on the loft planks. They were used for a soup eaten with rusks or as currants in cakes. Bilberry jam for panncakes or steak. Bilberry/Blueberry-pie and -cake. Wine can be made of the berries and crushed berries on snaps give a good and healthy liqueur. The dried leaves give a fine tea.

Bilberry thicket in May

Folk medicine.

The medieval physician Henrik Smid (1546) said that wine-decoct from the branches or flowers could be used against diarrhoea. The berry-juice held in the mouth, or chewing ripe berries or leaves healed mouth sores; the crushed leaves could be used as a compress on a swollen head and as a pain-relieving compress on the stomach. Another physician (from the 1600s) Simon Paulli did not quite agree, he said that bilberries could give diarrhoea. But the juice or soup from the oven-dried berries "cool the hot temper of the stomac and the liver".
People who could not endure feather duvets, could instead use matresses and pillows filled with bilberry leaves, this was also recommended for rheumatic pain. The unsweetened juice or tea from the leaves were drunk against scurvy and diabetes. The juice was also drunk against cold and bronchitis, and the berries cooked into a thick puree put on facial eczema.

On the Faroe Islands were the leaves used as a blood-purifying tea. In Greenland were the fresh cut leaves mixed with food against constipation.

The berries cooked with alum mordant wool dye purple, with iron vitriol olive; painters mix the juice with copper chalk and ammonium chloride and gets a red colour, the branches dye brown. Easter Eggs were dyed with the bilberry juice. (ab. 1800). It was once a common thing to colour white wines red with the bilberry juice, it was also used for colouring ( and forgering) red wine. From the berries were made bilberry-snaps and wine. The shrub except the root can be used for tanning.

Many bilberries is the sign of a good barley harvest.

Source: Folk og Flora, Dansk Etnobotanik, V.J.Brøndegaard, 1979

photo Mols Bjerge August 2009: grethe bachmann

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