The bilberry (vaccinium myrtillus) or whortleberry – a cousin of the blueberry – grows on Dartmoor (and other parts of upland Britain). Although you can make a medicinal tea from the leaves it is best known for its delicious fruit.
The bilberry is often associated with improving eyesight. There is a popular story of RAF pilots during WWII eating bilberry jam to sharpen vision for night raids. Although this might be more myth than fact there are some scientific studies that have shown evidence to suggest that bilberry consumption may halt macular degeneration that often comes with age.
It is easier to harvest them with a berry picker – a worthwhile investment to shortcut the harvest of many of these bush fruits. Keep your eye out for ripe bilberries, the season is very short and runs from beginning of August to early September – but it does depend on how far north-south you are and how the summer has been.
- 2lbs of bilberries
- 2lbs of sugar
- Squeeze of lemon, along with the pips, or an apple core (for the pectin)
- Boil up bilberries in a pan with lemon juice/pips or apple/core
- Remove any lemon or apple pips
- Add an equal amount of sugar so you have a 50:50 mix
- Bring back to the simmer until setting point
- Put into sterlised jars and put lids on when still hot.
- Enjoy on toast or in yoghurt.