Perennial plants, shrubs or bushy shrubs in cold and humid regions but also tropical plants developing on mountainous slopes, the ericaceae are robust, not very demanding on the quality of the soil (soil poor, acid, stony, almost without humus); include heather, blueberries or cranberries, rhododendrons.
They easily colonize huge areas of poor land by forming moors or bushes where they are the majority.
They proliferate thanks to an effective association with saprophytic fungi at the level of their roots (mycorrhysis) and in some cases thanks to their ability to cover the ground by emitting stolons in all directions. They can thus become invasive plants preventing the growth of other plants.
Vaccinium and related genera (eg Gaultheria, Symphysia in the West Indies) produce small edible berries, usually brightly colored and sought after by animals (and humans).
The fruits and leaves of blueberries, bearberry, strawberry tree, North American blueberries, cranberry are medicinal, but in this herbal medicine page we will mainly talk about the European blueberry and the cranberry from North America which have very interesting medicinal properties, especially for the prevention of recurrent urinary tract infections.
The blueberry, Vaccinium myrtillus, develops well in cold temperate regions (central Europe (eg, Poland) and in France on the mountainous slopes of the Vosges, the Massif Central, the Alps and the Pyrenees); on acid soil (siliceous, humus forest) it can be very abundant.
The leaves are firm and leathery, the flowers in bells (typical of the ericaceae) are born in the axils of the leaves.
The fruit is blue-violet, it is a small berry with a flattened top which bears a circular scar remains of the floral calyx, the flesh of the fruit is colored in purplish red.
The cranberry, or large-fruited cranberry (it can reach 2 cm in diameter), Vaccinium macrocarpon, grows naturally in humid areas (peat bogs, sandy areas) sometimes in undergrowth in northeastern North America.
The cranberry is now cultivated on a large scale for these dietary and medicinal fruits.
There is a similar variety, Vaccinium oxycoccos, widespread throughout the northern hemisphere but with a much smaller fruit, less known pharmacologically but which is beginning to be studied, particularly in Russia.
CHEMICAL COMPOSITION AND PROPERTIES
BLUEBERRY AND CRANBERRY FRUIT AND LEAF
The berries of blueberries, cranberries and their plant cousins (V. vitis-idae, V. corymbosum) have a similar chemical composition:
- 85 to 90% water,
- 3 to 8% organic acids (citric, malic.),
- a little vitamin C and provitamin A,
- 4 to 10% tannins: proanthocyanidol tannins (or catechin tannins),
- a significant amount of anthocyanosides (blue or red plant pigments (0.5 % of fresh fruit)) which result from the combination of a sugar (glucose, or galactose or arabinose) with an anthocyanidol (e.g., cyanidol, delphinidol, petunidol),
- flavonoids (yellow pigments) common
in many plants ( derivatives of quercetol, kaemferol)
- sugars and pectins.
Blueberry and Vaccinium leaves in general contain flavonoids (derived from quercetol) and tannins (proanthocyanidols).
The anthocyanoside pigments of the blueberry berry and the cranberry have very interesting properties (and common with other plants, for example the red vine or the blackcurrant):
- they are vasculoprotectors which reinforce the tone and reduce the permeability of blood capillaries,
- they therefore have anti-oedematous properties (verified in animals by the oral, intravenous and intraperitoneal route) and even anti-haemorrhagic (by mechanical effect),
- they are anti-inflammatory by inhibition of platelet aggregation and certain enzymes,
- Like many phenolic compounds, they trap free radicals,
- all these properties combine to limit the degeneration of blood vessels (atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis).
They would facilitate the regeneration of retinal purple (rhodopsin) thus improving or facilitating night vision; this last property is classic but not proven.
Vaccinium tannins are:
- internal and external astringent and antiseptic,
- also free radical scavengers,
- dimer tannins very close to anthocyanosides have real vascular-protective properties and are inhibitors of many enzymes (some important in the inflammatory process)
Cranberry and E.coli urinary tract infections
A fraction of the tannins has the property of preventing Escherichia Coli or coli bacteria from anchoring to the epithelial cells of the walls of the intestine and especially of the urinary tract (urethra and bladder).
Recurrent urinary tract infection (recurrent cystitis) is in fact most often due to this coli bacillus, an intestinal bacterium which infects the urinary tree because of the proximity of the orifices of the rectum and the urinary tract.
The "anti-adhesive" substances inactivating the colibacillus are mainly present in the fruits of the cranberry , those of the blueberry are much less effective.
These "anticolibacillus" tannins do not have an antibiotic power, they do not kill the bacteria, but inactivate them, the urinary flow eliminates them without them having the possibility of anchoring themselves on the urinary mucosa, first stage of the infection.
Some studies suggest that tannins in cranberry can also limit the development of Helicobacter pylori (main cause of gastric ulcer), streptococcus mutans (dental infection, periodontitis, cavities), and influenza infection .
The tannins in the leaves and fruits of blueberries and cranberries are astringent, antiseptic and can, in low doses, improve the symptoms of type 2 diabetes.
Recent studies focus on the anti-angiogenic power of blueberry and cranberry fruit extracts. Since cancers need an increase in the blood network to develop, limiting the development of this angiogenesis is one of the therapeutic avenues for fighting cancer.
BLUEBERRY AND CRANBERRY FRUIT AND LEAF
Extracts of blueberry (fruit or leaf) and especially cranberry (fruit) by mouth
They will be recommended:
- To treat disorders linked to capillary fragility and venous insufficiency: spontaneous bruising, purpura, petechiae, varicose veins and hemorrhoids, trophic disorders linked to diabetes, edema of the lower limbs due to veno-lymphatic insufficiency,
- to control infectious diarrheal episodes or prevent their onset,
- and ESPECIALLY TO HELP CURE desperately chronic CYSTITIS and urinary tract infections due to coli bacteria and prevent relapses,
- to improve vision in dim light in tired, stressed people or "professional drivers"; this indication is not proven,
- to improve the physical disorders associated with type 2 diabetes,
- to slow down the aging of blood vessels and therefore delay the onset of vascular accidents (myocardial infarction, stroke).
Blueberry and cranberry extracts externally
By external way:
- The decoction of leaves can be useful to disinfect the wounds or the superficial burns even slightly superinfected, in the infections of the mouth (aphtha, thrush, gingivitis), in vaginal injection (leucorrhea), example 50 g of leaves in 1 liter of water boil ½ hour.
- The fruit and leaf decoction can help relieve hemorrhoids (in application or as an enema): 100g of dry berries or 150g of ripe berries in 1 liter of water, boil for ½ hour.
You can find in pharmacies or on the internet:
- ethanolic tinctures: Vaccinium myrtillus or Vaccinium vitis-idae, mother tincture 50 to 150 drops per day,
- powders (cryobroyat) of fruit or leaves: 1g to 1.5 g per day,
- phytomedicines which combine extracts of vaccinium with other plants for vasculoprotective purposes.
- extracts of CRANBERRY (cranberry) in the form of tablets, capsules, drinkable ampoules:
To TREAT AND PREVENT URINARY INFECTION it is necessary to consume daily the equivalent of 20 to 60 g of fresh fruit by dividing the dose into twice .
We must therefore read the leaflet of the drug or food supplement to reach this dose.
You should also drink at least 1.5 liters of water or herbal tea in small quantities throughout the day.
Cranberry extracts are not standardized, however the recommended daily dose is between 300 and 500mg of cranberry extract per day.
The treatment is prolonged because preventive, from 3 to 6 months according to the recurrence of the episodes of cystitis.
In CASE OF ACUTE CYSTITIS, do not hesitate to use antibiotic treatment (1 to 7 days of treatment depending on the antibiotic prescribed) to avoid a more serious infection (pyelonephritis) and take cranberry extracts as a relay after treatment with antibiotics.
You can use fresh berries or their juice (quite astringent) as well as dried berries and leaves.
It should be used moderately because the presence of tannin causes secondary constipation.
The intestinal absorption of anthocyanosides can also be thwarted by the presence of these tannins; extracts enriched in anthocyanosides may be preferred to total extracts to treat microcirculation problems.
Myrtille et échinococcose alvéolaire
WARNING: in certain regions of Europe blueberries can be polluted by the defecations of foxes (who are fond of these berries) and thus be the cause of a fairly serious disease: alveolar echinococcosis.
In France, Franche-Comté, Lorraine, the Massif Central and the Alps are risk areas.
Switzerland, southern Germany and Austria are also affected.
The parasite is destroyed by heat but is resistant to cold or bleach.
The danger is limited by harvesting the blueberries furthest from the ground.
WILD BERRIES FROM COLD REGIONS
blueberry and cranberry, are very colorful little fruits whose pigments are useful for fighting against the fragility of blood capillaries and perhaps for seeing better at night. They contain substances that prevent the development of digestive and urinary coli infections (recurrent cystitis).
Copyright 2023 : Dr Jean-Michel Hurtel