Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Whortleberries Ripe

I was amazed recently when out on the moor, that the Whortleberries (or Bilberries) were ripe and I ended up picking enough for a meal.  I think this is very early, normally I would expect to pick in July and August. 

What a lovely name, and the bush has many more - bilberry; blueberry; heidelberry; huckleberry; hurtleberry and wimberry. The whortleberry, acquired its name according to a Greek legend. Myrtillus, son of Hermes paid the penalty of double-dealing by being thrown into the sea.  His body was washed ashore and Hermes changed it into a whortleberry bush in memory of the unlucky youth.

There's a Blue Whortleberry, a Red Whortleberry and also a Bog Whortleberry.  I think all the names come from closely related bushes of the Bilberry, which is the name I know and the berry which stained my tongue (and everything else) when I picked and ate them as a child.  We ate them fresh, but also in pies and jams and I remember stories of the World War II British Pilots eating Bilberry jam before a raid, to aid night vision.

Bilberries are extremely difficult to grow and are thus seldom cultivated.  Fruits are mostly collected from wild plants and are found in very acidic, nutrient poor soils. One characteristic is that they produce single or paired berries on the bush instead of clusters, as the blueberry does.  The black, globular, flat topped fruit is larger and softer than blueberry, and often a berry rake is used for collecting them. 

Image courtesy 'hisforhome'

I don't think there are as many bushes as there used to be, perhaps it is the bracken and fern growth overpowering them.  Sheep grazing on the moors love them too, so you have to be quick to pick. 


  1. Wonderful! Absolutely wonderful!

  2. Thankyou, very informative. I would love one of those berry rakes. I have never seen one.
    We have a 'myrtilles' festival here in Glux en Glen.I have yet to go.

  3. Hello Fresh Garden, thankyou for popping by.

    Jane, you can still buy these, well, modern ones, in stainless steel, or wire - though you may pick one up at the festival?

  4. yummy, may have to head north this weekend in search of some!


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