Sunday, 9 January 2011


There are at least 450 species of Vaccinium plants and where I come from in South Wales we call them wimberries, which is a corruption of the English name for these berries, whinberries. The word whin means furze or gorse and broom plants which grow on moors and mountains; the natural habitat of bilberries. The English word bilberry comes from the Danish “bollebar” which means ‘dark berry’. As I child I used to love going on a wimberry picking expedition, hoping that we got to the succulent berries before the sheep. It takes a lot of these berries to make a pie, so we used to fill a biscuit tin with them, if we could. It is back-breaking works as these berries grow low on the ground in sheep-grazing territory, and used to take four of us hours to fill a tin with them. Now, unfortunately the wimberry places have been victim of construction and forestation or deforestation, so we haven’t been picking them for many years. There are still places in Britain where they flourish though, so children still get their mouths stained with their purple-black juice.
   Dioscorides, in his Materia Medica written in the first century AD recommends them for diarrhoea and for mouth ulcers and sore throats, and they have been used in traditional medicine for centuries. They grow prolifically in Europe and Scandinavia, although not in Southern Italy or the Iberian Peninsula. They range from Europe to Western Mongolia, but are not found in other parts of Asia. They occur in the Pacific regions across to North America.
   They are known as Whortleberries, Huckleberries, Trackleberries, Black Whortles and Blaeberry in Scotland, and doubtless there are many other names for them. The leaves resemble myrtle leaves, hence the Latin name for this species.
   They have been found to be good for the eyesight, and this upholds one traditional remedy. It is said that the R.A.F. pilots were given whinberry preserves to eat before they flew on night missions, as it was thought that they cured “night blindness.” Modern clinical trials have shown that they are very good for the eyes the berries contain anthrocyanosides which have been found to boost the production of rhodopsin; a pigment which improves night vision, so perhaps the R.A.F. pilots and their medics were on to a good thing. Anthrocyanosides are plant pigments that have excellent antioxidant properties and can combat free radicals in the body which damage cells, so they help to prevent heart disease and cancer and reverse or prevent damage to cells. They also help to decrease the risk of blood clots forming, as they cause dilation of the blood vessels and the properties of whinberries make them potentially valuable in the treatment of varicose veins, haemorrhoids and damage to the capillary system. As far as eyesight goes research has shown that they help reduce the symptoms of an eye disorder called macular degeneration.
    They also contain vitamins A and C (which also has antioxidant properties) as well as iron and potassium and tannins which give them their astringent qualities. Their chromium content helps normalize collagen which helps to join the tissues of the skin which means that there is a potential for the bilberry to smooth wrinkles and slow the aging process of the skin. In fact the tisane can be used as a skin lotion and if you mix half wimberry juice and half witch hazel you have a very effective lotion for sunburn.
  The dried fruit and tisanes have been used to treat diarrhoea, nausea and indigestion and a gargle of the fresh juice soothes sore throats and mouths. A tisane of the leaves, stalks and berries has been effective for diabetes sufferers when taken over a prolonged period.
   A decoction of the berries was used in cases of typhoid fever; and the tisane made from the leaf and stem stops vomiting and stomach cramps. The fresh berries regulate bowel activity, and a tisane of the roots was once used to get rid of stones in the bladder. People suffering from anaemia were given the fresh berries to eat because of their iron content. The fresh fruit also aids digestion and helps to expel gas from the intestine.
   The glucoquinines in the fruit help to lower blood sugar levels, so this tiny fruit which looks a little like a blackcurrant is extremely good for you.
    The tisane of leaves and stems is made form 2 or 3 teaspoons of chopped leaves and stems and you pour a cup full of boiling water over them and allow them to steep for 15 mins, then strain before drinking. You can use this as a skin lotion for burns, wounds and other skin problems. The decoction is made with 2 tsp fresh berries or one tsp dried, Boil them in 2 cups of water until the water is reduced by half. Leave the fruit to steep for 8 hours and either drink it or use it as skin wash.

For pastry: -
225 gr plain flour
1 tsp salt
110 gr butter or margarine, cubed
200 gr sugar
For filling: -
400 gr wimberries
200 gr sugar

First make the pastry by rubbing together the sieved flour and cubes of butter until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and salt and mix well. Make a well in the centre and add two tbsps water and mix with your hands. Continue adding water until you have pliable dough. Form a ball with the dough and cover with cling film and leave in the fridge for an hour.
Roll out half the dough and put on an oven-proof plate. Put the wimberries on top and sprinkle with the sugar.
Rollout the other half of the dough and place on top. Crimp the edges with your thumb and forefinger so that the pie is well-sealed. Rick the top with a fork and sprinkle with a little more sugar if you wish. Cook in a pre-heated oven at 170 degrees C for 25 mins or until the pie crust is golden.
Serve hot with custard or cold with vanilla ice cream or thick cream.
This has Taste and is a Treat.



  1. Lovely! Picked and made the pie. Not only delicious but good for me! Many thanks. Jo Smith, South Wales

  2. So glad you enjoyed it! Thank you for telling us.
    Did you buy the wimberries or pick them I wonder, as the places I used to pick them are sadly no longer producing them. They used to grow on Machen mountain and Twym Barlym, which is now forested.

  3. Been spending a few hours every few days picking wimberries on Heolgerrig mountain in Merthyr Tydfil.Loads available nand they are larger this year too. I am freezing them and making them into tarts, sponges and jam.Love it. Intend to keep picking if weather is good. It's a dying pastime as don't see many others up the mountain.When I was a child the mountains were over-run with families picking!!! Gwynfigirl.

  4. It's good to know that the wimberries are still about and that at least some people pick them.If you'd like to share a recipe, feel free! We'd love to have one from you.

  5. A little bit late, but I thought I'd post up. (I'm 35, so not exactly ancient!) we used to go picking wimberries in the summer, You'd also get children selling them for 50p a pint. It makes the most delicious pie, with dream topping or soft vanilla ice cream, and far nicer than blueberries. I've not had a pie for ages, so with the hope of impressing a special lady with my cooking skills, I tried to find some berries this week. Sadly, they're just not about, I did manage to get about a pint of berries. Apparently the plants are susceptible to the fungus which is devastating the forestry here in south wales. Also, Himalayan Balsam is destroying the areas where the plants used to grow.

  6. Whimberries are in abundance in midwales ....mmmm

  7. Hi
    I live in Berkshire near Reading does anyone know where I can get Wimberries from please?

  8. must have picked about 10lbs this year great year forest of dean [willy]

  9. So excited, just found a swathe of wimberry shrubs up our lane hidden away, NE Manchester! Just enough for a beautiful sauce to go with vanilla ice cream.


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