Blueberries (vaccinium myrtillus) are a typical fruit of the undergrowth, have always been part of very old traditions
and are used to treat various illnesses. They usually grow in mountainous regions
(the Alps and Apennines, for example) and forests and are normally spread over
areas that are rich in humus. These berries can be recognised by their small shrubs
that come from the ericaceae family and are about 60cm high. They blossom in Spring
and there are three different species: blueberry, redberry/cranberry and bilberry.
According to some studies carried out in the USA, these little berries are full of antioxidants which can prevent cardiovascular illnesses, protect against tumours and even delay the natural process of aging. They have two advantages therefore; on the one hand, they are a food source and, on the other hand, they can be used as medication.
The properties of bilberries
The bilberry is the berry that has the most health benefits. It actually contains sugars and acids, especially citric acid (that protects the body), as well as oxalic acid, hydrocinnamic acid and gamma-linolenic acid. The oxalic acid is what gives this fruit its typical sour taste, the hydrocinnamic acid is very effective as it can neutralise carcinogenic nitrosamines (produced by the digestive system following the ingestion of nitrates) and the gamma-linolenic acid is very useful for the nervous system as it prevents diabetic nephropathy. However, this is not all: bilberries are particularly rich in folic acid (a very important vitamin that carries out many functions) and they contain tannins and anthocyanin glycosides, which, other than giving the fruit its characteristic colour, reduces the permeability of the capillaries and reinforces their structure. Anthocyanins, of which there are many, reinforce the connective tissue that supports blood vessels and improves their elasticity and tone, as well as carrying out an anti-haemorrhage action and working against free radicals. All of these substances also encourage and increase visual purple, improving our ability to see in the dark.
The properties of cranberries
The difference between cranberries and bilberries is not just their colour and taste but also the texture of the leaves, which for the latter are leathery, shiny and thick. Cranberries (which are rich in iron, vitamin C and fibre) are common across many European regions, in hilly and mountainous areas, and the best environment for them to grow in is a sunny but slightly shady one. The fruits of the cranberry plant are very flavoursome and are normally used to make jams, which are considered healthy and healing, according to experts. In medicine, cranberries are used to prevent and treat urinary infections (particularly cystitis caused by Escherichia coli, which reduces the quantity of urine produced) as well as being effective in treating mycosis and viruses. Consuming a small amount of cranberries can also reduce the amount of calcium in urine, reducing painful situations for those who suffer from kidneys stones. In addition, they can be used as an adjuvant in cases of diarrhoea, constipation and problems related to colon irritation and haemorrhoids. Lastly, cranberries can also soften small blemishes on the skin, such as couperosis.
Regarding the use of cranberries in cooking, as mentioned they can be used to make very nice jams, as well as preserves and jellies, or they can be enjoyed raw with a drop of lemon juice and sugar, or even eaten together with blackberries and raspberries to make the classic ‘fruits of the forest’ fruit salad. Grappa is also made from the maceration of this fruit and it has an intense yet delicate flavour and is best bought from small mountainous towns.
Cranberries and couperosis
Cranberries, as mentioned above, have refreshing, astringent, toning and diuretic properties and contain many active ingredients such as, vitamins A and C, citric and malic acid, myrtillin, phosphorus, calcium and manganese. The actions that these vitamins can perform are especially evident with regards to problems with capillaries (they actually reinforce capillary walls). For those who suffer from couperosis therefore, cranberries and cranberry based creams or treatments are recommended so as to make a mask that can protect against this imperfection.
Here is how to make the mask:
boil a spoonful of berries in 0.25l of water for 10 minutes then crush them, add 2 spoonfuls of powdered oats and mix together. Apply the mask to the face and leave it there for 15 minutes then rinse the face with warm water.
Bilberries as a ‘miracle cure’ for venous insufficiency
Venous insufficiency is an illness that affects a lot of people and, according to recent statistics, it is becoming more and more common. Although many people suffer from this, few know how to deal with it or prevent it. One method, that is definitely effective and already tested, is to turn to bilberries. It may seem strange that a small plant that is just 50cm tall can help to improve and even prevent venous illnesses but bilberries have exactly these properties. What are the advantages of this fruit therefore, with respect to venous insufficiency? Bilberries contain many organic acids (malic, cirtrus, and so on) but also sugars, tannins, pectin, myrtillin (a glucoside dye), anthocyanins, vitamins A and C and even a small amount of vitamin B. They are thus considered the best protectors of capillary microcirculation, in addition to being a great venous tonic, thanks to their active ingredients, for example anthocyanosides, that provide vitamin P properties, and keeps the capillaries and walls of blood vessels resistant and elastic.
The beneficial effects of blueberry tea
A tasty blueberry tea can be particularly good for eczema and dandruff since, thanks to its purifying and healing actions, it can soothe rashes and dandruff. To get good results it is recommended that you consume 1 cup of blueberry tea 3 times a day. In addition, it can also be used to make compresses and ablutions.
Blueberry tea has various uses:
Blueberry tea to fight dysentery in young children, especially newborns and infants. The tea should be strong and not too sweet.
Blueberry tea and haemorrhoids very useful for soothing the pains caused by haemorrhoids. Drink 1 cup of dried blueberry leaf tea 3 times a day for at least 3 weeks.
Blueberry tea to fight bladder and kidney problems the tea carries out an antiseptic action on the urinary tract, fortifying it. For cystitis and chronic kidney weakness, drink 1 cup 3 times a day.
Berries and Alzheimer’s disease
Recent studies carried out in America, regarding the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, indicate that bilberries are a strong antidote (especially if consumed as a tea) for improving the memory and regaining balance and motor coordination. These effects were discovered by scientists from Tufts University, in Boston: after some elderly patients were subjected to a diet rich in blueberries, the academics noticed a noticeable improvement in their motor skills and mental behaviour. In fact, the process of aging seemed to actually have been reversed. The molecules responsible for this miraculous ‘rejuvenation’ are anthocyanins, which are natural substances that provide these berries with their typical blue colour and are also present in strawberries and spinach. Anthocyanins intervene with and neutralise free radicals which ‘stress out’ the body, causing it to age early, often damaging DNA.
Using cranberries as a sauce
In America, the sauce made from cranberries is eaten with dinner on Thanksgiving Day. It is reported that the Pilgrims often used cranberries just after landing as they grew abundantly in that area. It is also said that, during the American Civil War, on Thanksgiving Day of 1864, General Grant ordered that cranberry sauce should be served to the troops, together with the usual mess rations and so, from that moment on, it was not conceivable to have a Thanksgiving meal without this special sauce.
Here are the instructions for making cranberry sauce:
Heat some water in a pan, add sugar and wait for it to dissolve completely. When the water is boiling, pour in the cranberries. Lower the heat so the water continues to simmer and cook until the berries are not completely open and the consistency is not quite right. Then remove from the heat, leave to cool down and put the sauce in the fridge.