ARCTOSTAPHYLOS UVA URSI
This plant is also commonly known as Bearberry, but another name is Kinnikninnik, said to be an Algonquin word for ‘smoking mixture’.
It belongs to the Ericaceae family, along with our beloved Arbutus trees. It is a trailing evergreen whose ascending tips rarely reach 20cm in height. It forms a matt with rooting branches and makes a handsome landscaping ground cover; be careful it hasn’t been sprayed where you plan to harvest it. It has alternate, oval leaves 3cm long, with dark green and shiny topsides and paler beneath. The flowers are pale pink and white, 5mm long, shaped like inverted urns, and droop in terminal racemes. The berries look like tiny apples, are bright red and mealy, and remain on the plant through winter. Berries contain large, hard seeds. The bark is dark brownish-red and prone to peeling in shreds.
If you think you’d like to grow it, it grows in sandy, well-drained, open areas. Preferring an acid soil, it can be grown from seed, cuttings, or by thinning existing patches. Leaves are best harvested in the spring and summer but may be used all year. Use it for companion planting to deter snails.
Uva Ursi’s best claim to fame is its effectiveness in battling urinary tract infections. It is highly antibiotic against such organisms as Staphylococcus and Escheri coli. It has a strong diuretic action, which is necessary to flush the urinary tract in support of disinfection. As well is it soothing, toning, and strengthening to the membranes of the urinary system, maybe be used to help move small stones, and will stop bleeding and promote healing of abrasions or ulcerations of these tissues.
It can be used to treat such conditions as urethritis, pyleitis and other urogenital inflammation, nephritis, urolithiasis, ulceration in kidney and bladder, acute and chronic conditions. It is a powerful astringent in some forms of incontinence, specific for lack of innervation, tone and feeble circulation in the urinary tract, painful conditions of the lower urinary tract, oedema in face or legs. It‘s astringency also lends itself to the treatment of excessive menstrual flow, diarrhea, and it may be used as a douche in vaginal ulceration and infection.
Hydroquinones – glycosides, mainly arbutin (5.0-18.0%), hydroquinine, methylarbutin; Iridoids – monotropein; Flavonoids – quercitrin, isoquercitrin, myricacitrin;
Miscellaneous – tannins (6%), volatile oil, ursolic, malic, and gallic acids.
Cautions and Considerations
Large doses harmlessly turn urine green.
Not for expectant or nursing mothers or children under 12 years.
Not to be used unsupervised for more than two weeks.
There exists a poorly supported warning against use in kidney disorders.
Should not be given with treatments which cause acid urine.
Has high tannin levels which can block the absorption of various nutrients so short term or intermittent use is recommended..
May cause cramping, nausea, vomiting, constipation.
Do not combine with cranberry juice.
How to Use Uva-Ursi
Tincture is usually made in a 1:5 ratio and may be taken at a rate of 2 ml three times per day, up to 30 ml per week.
For tea, infuse one heaped tsp in 1cup of boiling water, for 15min. Drink 1/2cup three times per day. It is my opinion that infusion is best to replace fluid lost in diuretic action, except in cases of oedema.
Powder may be taken in 250 mg capsules, twice per day.
For lower urinary tract infections, combine with dandelion leaves (Taraxacum officinalis), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), marshmallow (Althea officinalis), and couchgrass (Agropyron repens). For incontinence and toning, combine with horsetail (Equisetum arvense).
Folklore and other Uses
Uva-Ursi has been used as a hide-tanning agent in Sweden and Russia and as an ash-coloured dye in Scandinavia.