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Vaccinium myrtillus

Secret Meaning


Alternative Names:

wimberry, whinberry, winberry, windberry, bilberry, fraughan, hurtleberry, whortleberry, blaeberry, black-heart, and myrtleberry

Facts & Folkore:

Traditionally, the last Sunday in July, Bilberry Sunday, is a day set aside during the festival of Lammas (Lughnasadh) to gather bilberries.

Related to the blueberry, this fruit is known by a spectacularly long list of names: wimberry, whinberry, winberry, windberry, bilberry, fraughan, hurtleberry, whortleberry, blaeberry, black-heart (famously mentioned in Thomas Hardy's novel, "The Return of the Native") and myrtle berry! Many names in the British Isles describe this tiny purple moorland berry – generally speaking, the Welsh call them wimberries, the Irish call them fraughans, the English say bilberries, and the Scottish use the word blaeberry, although there are many derivations of the word and regional differences. In the USA, they are known as huckleberries, a derivation of the word hurtleberry, named by English settlers in the 17th Century, and immortalized in the title character of Mark Twain's, "Huckleberry Finn."

This berry has even made its way into American English archaic slang. The phrase "a huckleberry over my persimmon" was used to mean "a bit beyond my abilities". And "I'm your huckleberry" is a way of saying that one is just the right person for a given job.

The origin and secret meaning associated with the bilberry is accounted for by the following Greek legend of Myrtillus. Cenomaus, the father of the lovely Hippodamia, chose Myrtillus, the youthful son of Mercury, for his personal attendant. Cenomaus was particularly proud of his skill as a charioteer, and insisted that all who sought his daughter's hand must compete in a chariot race with him. Pelops, who greatly desired to win Hippodamia, offered a large reward to Myrtillus if he would draw out the linchpin from his master's chariot. Myrtillus yielded to the tempting bribe, with the result that the chariot was overturned and Cenomaus killed. But with his dying breath, Cenomaus bid the treacherous Pelops to avenge himand Myrtillus was flung into into the sea. The waters brought the body back to the shore and Mercury changed it into the shrub called after his name, formerly given to the plant that produced the myrtle-berry.

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