Above: bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), in Finnish: mustikka
Below: blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum), in Finnish: tarhamustikka or pensasmustikka
The biggest difference between blueberries and bilberries is, that blueberry is native to America, while bilberry is from Northern Europe. But there are also other differences in the two berries:
Blueberries are bigger in size, lighter in colour and milder in taste, and grow in clusters. The colour of the pulp is light, almost greenish.
Bilberries then again are dark blue, almost black, and the pulp of the berry is dark red. The berry is much more smaller, but the taste is deeper, and they don’t grow in clusters, but separately. The Finnish word for bilberry is mustikka, which refers to the colour being nearly black (musta).
In Finland, the cultivated varieties of the American blueberry are known as tarhamustikka (“garden bilberry”) or pensasmustikka (“bush bilberry). The cultivars are, however, sensitive to cold, and cannot survive in the northern parts of Finland.
As bilberries grow wild in the Finnish forests, there’s not much need for the cultivated blueberries. Or, the latter isn’t considered such a delight. They may be used as decorations on cakes, but otherwise… Well, no, not really. What’s the point on growing blueberries in your garden, if you can get much better ones free of charge from the forest? Unless of course you’re not the type to go berry picking in the nature.
The season for the bilberries is from late July to early September, but it varies depending on the year. This year they say they were early, and that the year wasn’t that good. I tried to spot news and topics on bilberries, and I think that if you find a good spot that no-one else has found yet, you still might have a chance… Good luck!
When I went to school, no-one talked about bilberries, and we were (falsely) taught that mustikka is blueberry in English. I guess that confusion in the name comes from other languages: in Swedish bilberry is known as blåbär, which translates directly to blue (blå) berry (bär), and Blaubeere in German, translating the same way. There are many other names for the berries in English (huckleberry, whortleberry…) and in German (Heidelbeere, Schwarzbeere…), but I’m going to leave it to that.
Or, it may just come from the American viewpoint, as they call bilberry the European blueberry? No wonder everyone’s confused!