I used to think of the Bilberry (often Blaeberry north of the border) as an upland plant – something available for browsing in high summer when crossing wide expanses of heath or moor. In recent years I’ve found it along local hedge-banks and within deciduous woodland in the dairy and sheep country of the lowlands, as well as up on the higher ground of Exmoor and Dartmoor.
The problem with the lowland plants is the difficulty in finding any of the wretched berries. The plant itself is common enough, sometimes carpeting large areas. And the pinkish, globular flowers are very obvious in the spring, hanging down from their stalks and promising good things to come. And yet, later in the season, ripe berries are few and far between. Perhaps losses to birds and small mammals are greater away from open moorland? Adding to the problem, the dark colour of the ripe berries helps them melt into the background making those that do survive devilishly hard to spot. Small children are a useful search tool with their keen eyesight, willing attitude and proximity to the ground.
The supermarket equivalent of the Bilberry is the well-known and heavily-cultivated Blueberry which is larger, brasher and (it goes without saying) inferior in taste. These berries have gained a reputation as a ‘superfood’ in recent years, full of such apparently good things as antioxidants and phytoflavinoids, and sold on the basis that they can ward off almost all known ailments and diseases. They even have anti-inflammatory properties which may help with the sore back you are sure to develop during the protracted gathering process.