Natural Sources of Anthocyanins:    

Bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillus), Blueberries (Vaccinium spp.), Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon)  [Fam. Ericaceae]; Other colorful berries and fruit also contain anthocyanins including Elderberries (Sambucus spp.) and Grapes (Vitis vinifera).


Standardized anthocyanin extracts (i.e. bilberry and cranberry); dried whole berries (for teas); powdered bilberries, blueberries and cranberries; cranberry juice; elderberry syrups; purple grape and red wine extracts, and hawthorn berries.

Therapeutic Uses:     

– Anti-inflammatory
– Antioxidant
– Bleeding, excessive post-operative
– Blood Clots
– Blood Platelet Stickiness
– Blood Purification
– Bone and Joint Problems
– Breast Tenderness
– Breathing Disorders
– Bronchitis
– Cataracts
– Circulatory Disorders
– Diarrhea
– Enteritis
– Eyesight Disorders
– Fibrocystic Breast Disease
– Hemorrhoids
– Leg Vein Health
– Lymphatic System Disorders
– Microangiopathy
– Skin Problems
– Sore Throat
– Urinary Tract Problems
– Vascular Disorders


Anthocyanins are the colorful flavonoids concentrated in brightly colored berries and fruit (“anthos” means “flower” and “cyan” means “blue”) being most concentrated in bilberries, blueberries, cranberries, elderberries, purple grapes, red wine and hawthorn berries. Anthocyanin extracts are important for the health of the micro-blood vessel network and are clinically used in this way by medical herbalists and physicians in mainland Europe. Recent studies in the United Kingdom confirm that anthocyanins facilitate the repair of vessel damage responsible for ‘small blood vessel permeability’ and the related fluid retention caused, including swollen limbs, fingers, breasts and the tissue surrounding the eye area. There is currently little orthodox treatment for this type of fluid retention except diuretics, which are not without side effects and fail to address the underlying cause of the disorder. The ancestral diet was replete with anthocyanins and these antioxidants help to protect the body from harmful free radicals. Bilberry anthocyanins can act to quickly repair and regenerate broken and leaky capillaries and blood vessels within the body.  Anthocyanins are also powerful antioxidants that help to protect skin against U.V. rays. Anthocyanins bind to and stabilize collagen and elastin; they stabilize the phospholipids of endothelial cells and increase synthesis of collagen and mucopolysaccharides, which give the arterial walls structural integrity. This strengthening activity could be critical for preventing strokes and cancer. Also, the increased production of collagen and elastin by cells reduces inflammation, which can be beneficial in the treatment of arthritis and asthma. European doctors routinely prescribe anthocyanin extracts before operations to prevent excessive post-operative bleeding. Improved circulation also brings enhanced mental clarity as well. It is well recognized that cranberry and blueberry anthocyanins can effectively treat and prevent mild chronic and recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections; they act to prevent bacteria from adhering to urinary tract walls.


There are more than 200 different types of anthocyanins that fall into six major groups: delphinidin; cyanidin; petunidin; pelargonidin; peonidin; and malvidin. Kuhnau (1976) describes anthocyanins as water-soluble plant pigments of the 2-phenylbenzophyrylium (flavylium) structure. Different berries have different anthocyanin profiles (HPLC fingerprints) that can be used to identify species and to verify the purity of products including fruit juices (i.e. this is done to verify that cranberry juices sold on the market contain at least 25% real cranberry juice). Different berries also contain different levels of anthocyanins (i.e. dried bilberries contain 0.7% anthocyanins whereas dried commercial blueberries contain only 0.2%). Anthocyanins normally exist bound to sugar molecules (as glycosides) and it is known that without bound sugars (the aglycone) is extremely unstable. The different anthocyanin compounds occur when the different core structures bond with different sugar moieties (glucose < rhamnose < galactose < xylose < arabinose).

For instance, the anthocyanin pigments present in grape-skin extract consist of diglucosides, monoglucosides, acylated monoglucosides, and acylated diglucosides of peonidin, malvidin, cyanidin, petunidin and delphinidin. The amount of each compound varies depending upon the variety of grape and climatic conditions. Bilberries contain a large amount of delphinidin that colors the berries reddish purple. According to Francis (1977), the blue to red colour imparted by the anthocyanins depends largely upon the pH of the medium. The highest quality standardized extracts of bilberries, those used in clinical trials, contain 25% anthocyanins, which corresponds to approximately 36% anthocyanosides (anthocyanins with sugars attached).

Suggested Amount:    

Bilberry anthocyanins: Take between 250-1000mg of bilberry extract standardized to contain 25% anthocyanins daily. Alternatively, as a tea, 1-2 tablespoonfuls of bilberry fruit are boiled in water (ca. 150ml) for 10 minutes and passed through a tea strainer while still hot. To treat diarrhea in children or adults, a cup of the freshly prepared tea is drunk cold several times a day.

Cranberry anthocyanins: For treatment of UTIs: The dosage of cranberry juice ranges from between 2 ounces to 16 ounces, based on controlled clinical trials (the lower dosage corresponds to pure cranberry juice and the higher dosage corresponds to cranberry cocktail containing 30% real juice). Powdered extracts of cranberry can be taken correspondingly. For strengthening the vascular system: Take between 250-1000mg of cranberry extract standardized to contain 25% anthocyanins daily. For soothing irritated mucous membranes of the mouth and throat or for treating fever: Place cranberries in cold water for two hours, allowing them to swell and then take 1-2 teaspoonfuls of these berries with some fluid.

Elderberry anthocyanins: For cleansing and fasting, take 1-2 tablespoonfuls of elderberry syrup per day with plenty of liquid (1:10).

See Herbal Monographs on specific herbs for more information.

Drug Interactions:    

None known.


None known.

Side Effects:

None known.


Christie S, Walker AF, Lewith GT. 2001. Flavonoids–a new direction for the treatment of fluid retention? Phytother Res. 2001 Sep; 15(6): 467-75. Review.

Colantuoni A, Bertuglia S, Magistretti MJ, Donato L. 1991. Effects of Vaccinium Myrtillus anthocyanosides on arterial vasomotion. Arzneimittelforschung. 1991 Sep; 41(9): 905-9.

Laplaud PM, Lelubre A, Chapman MJ. 1997. Antioxidant action of Vaccinium myrtillus extract on human low density lipoproteins in vitro: initial observations. Fundam Clin Pharmacol. 1997; 11(1): 35-40.

Lietti, A, Cristoni, A, Picci, M. 1976. Studies on Vaccinium myrtillus anthocyanosides. I. Vasoprotective and antiinflammatory activity. Arzneim Forsch 26(5): 829-832.

Politzer M. 1977. [Experiences in the medical treatment of progressive myopia (author’s transl)]. Klin Monatsbl Augenheilkd. 1977 Oct; 171(4): 616-9. German.

Additional Information:     

Positive Clinical Findings:
A group of Italian researchers showed that a mixture of anthocyanosides from bilberry plus vitamin E stopped the progression of lens clouding in a remarkable 97 percent of people with early-stage cataracts.

Recent Clinical Findings:
A study conducted in Italy found significant therapeutic benefits for using bilberry anthocyanosides to treat fibrocystic breast disease (mastopathy). The study used clinical and instrumental control (echography) of patients before and after at least three months treatment with anthocyanosides. The protocol used was of the prospective and comparative type, whereas follow-up lasted three months. The study was performed in the outpatients’ clinic of Breast Physiopathology and Echography organised within the ambit of the services of the Gynecology and Obstetrics Division. In this particular instance both echography and clinical examinations were performed at the same clinic. A total of 257 patients took part in the program of which 35 were excluded since they failed to attend subsequent controls. The study was very well controlled and the results were very encouraging. There was a marked improvement in 75 patients, equivalent to 33.8%, symptoms were reduced in 61 women (27.5%) and disappeared in 14 (6.3%), whereas treatment had no effect in 72 cases (32.4%). In conclusion, therapy with bilberry anthocyanosides for three months in patients with mastodynia, consequent to fibrous mastopathy, was efficacious in reducing symptoms and mammary tension.

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