July 22, 2023

Foraging for bilberries

Our local moors are totally covered in bilberries at the moment. I think that they have other names if you do not live in the North of the England, and are also known elsewhere as winberries, huckleberry, whortleberries, or blaeberries (Scotland). For years I walked on the moors and didn’t even notice them as the bushes are only short in height in the UK, and often will be entangled or hidden by the heather.  I now recognise the leaves which are oval and slightly serrated, and grow alternatively along the branch, rather than in pairs.  They are dark green but often have a red tinge to them as the season ends.  Luckily there isn’t anything really that they can be confused with that grows in that kind of habitat, especially if you check the shape of the leaves.

The fruit that look like blueberries, are dark blue and tiny, and they take time to harvest, and so it is a labour of love.  I understand that you can buy a kind of comb that make harvesting them a shorter task, but I have not tried one, and I guess you would have to sort out all the leaves and rubbish it picked up when you got home.  When I was a student, in the days when, as a single parent, you did not get any benefits during the holidays and lived off your loan, the bilberry  provided my family with the vitamin C we really needed, and also other vitamins like A, D, E and K.  In truth I cannot bring myself to turn down free food even if it does stain my hands purple for a few days and so I will be going to pick some later if the rain holds off for a couple of hours.  I freeze them and add them to winter smoothies and pies, but you can make jam, compote, put them in muffins and make pancake filling out of them, too.

The fruit is safe to be eaten raw, and it tastes a bit like a strong blueberry, but kind of more intense.  I am thinking of having a go at drying some this year and adding them to my muesli.  I have read that they have four times the amounts of anti-oxidants of blue berries, and so must be what is known as a ‘super’ food.  They are supposed to help with aging, fatigue, help prevent cancer, help control blood sugar, help with brain function, be good for your eyes, and reduce the chance of diabetes, and so I would be daft not to use a few hours to pick some.  I don’t know if it is true or not, but I heard a rumour that the RAF used them to help with night vision on their bombing campaigns during the last world war. It seems mad that people pay a fortune for these kinds of super foods when they are sitting there free on moors and on the edges of woodlands which have acidic soil.  I have never seen them for sale, either.  I can’t wait to come home with a tub full.  Do you pick bilberries?


If you are foraging it is important that you know what you are picking before you eat it, and so check with reliable sources and cross reference with plant identification books (but not apps as they are often wrong).  If you are finding what you think are bilberries in a different habitat, and at a different time of year (they usually fruit during July and August) than chances are that it is not bilberries.

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!


  1. Ulvmor July 23, 2023 at 2:58 pm - Reply

    Oh yes, bilberries. Or we call them blueberries (blåbär). They are the original ones… ;-)
    But they are healthy, and in Scandinavia they are really popular (among with lingonberry, which is ripening later). It is sold in huge amounts every summer, and I bet everyone in countryside knows at least one teenager who has bought a moped or a car by foraging and selling blueberries. They sell it on facebook by the 10 l buckets. And my teenagers hate picking them, as you have noticed, they are tiny. We do have berry comb, but it picks so much trash (leaves etc) so it takes trice the amount of time to clean them at home. I prefer picking them clean by hand, so I can basically just put them in to the freezer.
    You can by them at supermarkets, they are sold frozen either in bags just like any other frozen product or you can scoop whatever amount you want from the containers in freezer for the kg price.
    As a teenager in the early 80’s we used to dye our hair with blueberries! Oh the lovely era of punk…

    • ToniG July 23, 2023 at 5:25 pm - Reply

      Blue berries are larger than bilberries and over here in the UK blue berries are usually cultivated whilst bilberries grow wild on moors and in wood land. We can buy blue berries here, frozen as well as fresh, though most of them are imported, but I have never seen bilberries being sold. I loved hearing about you dying your hair with blue berries. thanks for sharing x

  2. Lowcarb Surrey Housewife July 27, 2023 at 6:49 pm - Reply

    After last year’s complete lack of bilberries (here in the South of England) it was a relief to find some today. Took about two hours to pick a bowlful, but they’re worth it. I’ve never seen anyone else picking them around Guildford, either! I make them last longer by cooking them with apples. (Cooking intensifies the flavour.) Very envious of Ulvmor that they can buy them in the supermarkets – even french supermarkets don’t seem to stock the Polish jars any more…

    • ToniG July 28, 2023 at 6:36 am - Reply

      I am glad that you managed to find some. Yes apples are good for bulking out and adding sweetness to fruit so that you do not need as much sugar. Thanks for commenting x

Leave A Comment