Wild Bilberries in Cornwall
Towards the end of the summer I was walking through a woodland in south Cornwall, neither near my destination, nor my starting point. I was carrying a large amount of drinking water for a wild camping trip I was doing with a friend, and sincerely hoped I was walking in the right direction. Water is heavy. I sat down on a muddy bank to rest, woodlands are wonderful places to just sit in, I love feeling small amongst those majestic trees.
One of the things I look out for in certain woodlands – namely pine, oak or birch woods – is bilberries. They like acid, and well-drained soil up to 1300 ft. As short, stubby bushes, I like to run my hands over them and feel them spring back, their flexible woody stems and small, soft leaves bounce back when I do this. It is one of the ways I identify them out of season too. They are only up to 60 cm tall, so quite easy to spot compared to the other undergrowth in a woodland.
This time I was lucky, there were a few bilberry bushes to distract me along the way. The fruits were smaller than I’d seen before, perhaps because of our particularly dry and hot summer, I heard that the bilberry harvest in Norway was practically non-existent this year. I’ve found them before on Dartmoor, and a Swedish friend of mine finds them regularly on the moors and heath land where they also like to grow here in Cornwall, though she’s got the eye for all those fruits that are so familiar to her from her homeland.
When my friend eventually caught up with me I showed her the bushes. It took her ages to spot one of the fruits on it, that’s how sparse and small they were. Just a few, singular berries dotted here and there, enough to try just 2 or 3 each. Any wild find can be exciting and rewarding, and this time it was in a small, gentle way.
(Hard to spot the biberry amongst the leaves and woody stems)
Bilberries are also known as blaeberries and whortleberries in the UK. In Scandanavia they are called blue berries.
I offer private foraging experiences in a venue of your choice, where you can get to know the forage-able plants in your area. If you are in or near any of the areas I mentioned that bilberries like to grow, feel free to invite me so we can go hunting together.