Bearberry (Uva ursi)

Uva ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi L.)

Ericaceae Heath family

Common name: Bearberry

Part used and where grown: The uva ursi plant is found in colder, northern climates. It has red berries, which bears are said to be fond of. The flowers are also red. The leaf is used.

In what conditions might uva ursi be supportive?

Â¥ urinary tract infection

Uses: A bitter herb used for kidney and bladder infections, kidney stones, nephritis, diabetes, and hemorrhoids. Strengthens the heart muscle, used as a tonic, and helps disorders of the spleen, liver, pancreas, and small intestines. Used as a diuretic. Good for female disorders.

Also used in bronchitis, gonorrhea, diarrhea, and to stop bleeding.

It is not necessary to drink the tea for long periods, because acute symptoms generally will disappear within a few days with treatment of bearberry leaf tea.

Historical or traditional use: The leaves and berries were used by numerous indigenous people from northern latitudes. Native Americans sometimes combined uva ursi with tobacco and smoked it. It was also used as a beverage tea in some places in Russia. The berries were considered beneficial as a weight-loss aid. It was found in wide use for infections of all parts of the body because of its astringent, or “drying”, action.

Biochemical Information: Arbutin, chorine, ellagic acid, ericolin, gallic acid, hydroquinolone, malic acid, methyl-arbutin, myricetin, volatile oils, quercetin, tannins, ursolic acid, ursone, and a substance similar to quercetin. Tannin is present up to 6% or 7%.

Active constituents: The glycoside arbutin is the active ingredient in uva ursi. Arbutin is present in fairly high amounts (up to 10%) in uva ursi. It has been shown to kill bacteria in the urine.1 Before it can act, however, the sugar portion of arbutin and its attached small molecule (known as hydroquinone) must be broken apart. The urine must be alkaline for this to happen. Hydroquinone is a very powerful antimicrobial agent and is responsible for uva ursi’s ability to treat urinary tract infections. Arbutin has also been shown to increase the anti-inflammatory effect of synthetic cortisone.2

Medicinal Properties: Diuretic, strongly astringent, tonic

How much should I take? For alcohol-based tinctures, many people take 5 ml three times per day. Herbal extracts in capsules or tablets (containing 20% arbutin) in an amount of 250-500 mg three times per day can also be taken. Use of uva ursi should be limited to no more than fourteen days. To ensure alkaline urine, 6-8 grams of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) mixed in a glass of water can be drunk. Baking soda should not be taken for more than fourteen days; as well, individuals with high blood pressure should not take baking soda. People should not use uva ursi to treat an infection without first consulting a nutritionally oriented doctor.

Are there any side effects or interactions? Some people may experience mild nausea after taking uva ursi. Long-term use of uva ursi is not recommended, due to possible side effects from excessive levels of hydroquinone. People should avoid taking acidic agents, such as fruit juice or vitamin C, while using uva ursi. Uva ursi is contraindicated in pregnant or lactating women and should be used in young children only with the guidance of a health care professional.

Legends, Myths and Stories: Native Americans used bearberry, or kinnikinnick as they called it, in their ceremonial pipe in place of tobacco. The Arikaras cultivated sacred tobacco and mixed it with bearberry dried leaves and the dried inner bark of red dogwood. Some Native American tribes mixed tobacco with bearberry to make a milder smoke.

The pipe-stem of the Plains Indians was made of golden sumac, a sumac which used to grow close by the pipestone quarry. This stem was about 24 inches long and an inch wide, but quite thick, flat like a carpenter’s pencil. This is the way the hole through the stem was made. Gathering the sumac in Spring when the sap was up in the large pith, some meat or fish was put out where blowflies could work on it. When large maggots were on the meat, the piece of sumac which had previously been put in a can of oil or bear grease, was brought in. As the large pith had taken up the oil, it was soft, and quite a bit was dug out. The maggots were then sealed up in the stem, to either eat their way through, or die. Sometimes they did both, but there was plenty of time to do it all over again, patiently, till a long perfect hole was drilled through.

The use of bearberry as a folk remedy for urinary tract infections has been validated by modern research showing that this herb is an effective treatment for bladder and kidney ailments.


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1. Jahodar L, Jilek P, Pakova M, Dvorakova V. Antimicrobial effect of arbutin and an extract of the leaves of Arctostaphylos uva-ursi in vitro. Ceskoslov Farm 1985; 34:174-8.
2. Matsuda H, Nakamura S, Tanaka T, Kubo M. Pharmacological studies on leaf of Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (L) Spreng. V. Effect of water extract from Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (L) Spreng (bearberry leaf) on the antiallergic and antiinflammatory activities of dexamethasone ointment. J Pharm Soc Japan 1992; 112:673-7.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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