Friday, December 20, 2013
Huckleberry-Vaccinum Myrtillus, Vaccinum Ashei, Vaccinum Augustifolium, Vaccinum Corymbosum, Vaccinum Cespitosum
Also known as: bilberry, blueberry, whortleberry, hurtleberry, wimberry
Parts used: leaves, berries
Meridians/Organs affected: liver, ocular, pancreas, urinary, intestinal
Properties: astringent, diuretic, antibacterial, disinfectant, refrigerant
Hucklebrry, better known as bilberry in the alternative world, is a member of the Heath family. There are over 60 varieties of this species just in the western states alone. They are usually divided into three sub-groups: 1)those that are found in swamps and/or bogs, 2)those that are found in well drained soil and 3)those that are tiny and often red but so small they are hard to gather in appreciable amounts.
Huckleberry has alternate, deciduous, broad lance-shaped leaves with small pink urn-shaped flowers that appear where the leaves axil. The berries have flattened ends and are either red or blue with blue being the more well-known. It is bush-like or shrub-like in nature, some of which get up to 3 feet tall. Picking these berries is labor-intensive and backbreaking but a labor of love nonetheless. (Most people who have found huckleberry bushes guard them well as they are so tasty and amazing no one wants to share.)
Huckleberries can be found from the Artic Circle to the Rockies. They bloom from May to July and the leaves are best gathered before the plant blooms. The berries of all species are edible whether raw or cooked but vary in flavor.
Huckleberry has a rather amazing past. It has long been used for food throughout Europe and the Europeans even had special days set aside for the gathering of the berries. The Brits of northern England call it bilberry, the Scots call it blueberry and it is referred to as whortleberry in southeastern England and wimberry in Shropshire, England. (Personally I think the Brits need to choose one name and stick with it...LOL)
In Britain, when huckleberries would come on some people would make a social gathering out of the entire affair. Whole villages and communities would take along picnics with their pails and many times it turned into a drunken fest when many unwed coupled stole away for 'personal' time. In other places though, this was considered a time to be taken seriously and entire weeks were spent making pies, jams, wines, syrups, etc. to sell to passersby or to keep as medicinal fare for themselves.
The French have a metal comb called a "peigne", which is used to harvest these small berries. The fruit that was 'combed' from the bush was then sold to jam factories or dye shops. In medieval times, it became quite popular to use the berries for dyes in painting. Mrs. Grieve (1931), who was well known to British herbalist in her day, used the berries for gastroenteritis, diarrhea, dysentery, bed wetting, hemorrhoids, varicose veins, etc. The leaves were used for hypoglycemia, diabetes, urinary tract infections and for ulcers, including those found on the tonsils or in the mouth.
During WWII, British pilots who flew night raids were given huckleberry sandwiches before flying as it was believed that the berries would improve one's night vision. To some that may sound like hoopla; however, there have been several studies done on huckleberries in this regard and some of the statistics in these studies are nothing short of miraculous. The berries have been found to increase circulation to the eyes and help with a number of eye-related diseases. They have been found not only to improve one's eyesight and visual acuity at night but to increase the blood supply to the eyes by 75%. The berries also have been found to improve nearsightedness after five months of regularly taking them and to improve visual acuity by 83% after only 15 days. In fact, 80% of the people tested that were taking the huckleberries for the first time improved on their visual exams and night vision tests within three minutes of taking them. Other advantages/improvements were: reduced cataract formation, help with macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, etc. Huckleberries appear to be a powerhouse of medicine.
Huckleberries contain anthocyanins. These are flavonoids that are amazing antioxidants. They have been in the spotlight recently for their ability to help heal a number of conditions. Studies have shown that they can help ease the aging process, reduce inflammation and increase insulin production. Anthocyanins also protect blood vessels and seem to have anti-carcinogenic abilities as well. These particular flavonoid compounds are also found in blackberries, hawthorn berries, elderberries, cherries, etc. They are what give them their blue or red color and are found in particularly large amounts in huckleberries. Huckleberries also are used throughout Europe before surgical procedures as they strengthen capillary walls and prevent hemorrhaging or excessive bleeding. This also helps to lower the blood pressure, improve blood circulation, helps reduce clotting, etc.
The huckleberry is completely safe for everyone to use which makes it nice for the elderly, small children and pregnant women. The leaves are high in tannins though so if using them for tea, remember to use milk with it (milk binds with the tannins and voids them out). Even then-you may take the tea for about 3 weeks or so and then give your body a break for a week at least before starting to use it once more.
As is customary with my posts I am including some links below for your perusal. Please use them as you feel necessary and enjoy these yummy berries!