Uva Ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)

Also known as Bearberry, this perennial manzanita forms a low-lying mat notable by it’s trailing red stems and smooth, alternate evergreen leaves. It rarely grows taller than 6 inches, but can grow densely and hardily in creeping mats. It grows white to pink urn shaped flowers in the spring that give way to red mealy berries in the fall. It grows best in dry, gravely to sandy acidic soils in mediterranean climates, and does very poorly in rich soils. It is best propagated by cutting, but takes a long time to root, and does not transplant well. Once established, it’s hardy to -50, and spreads densely and easily. The leaves should be harvested in the spring or summer and dried in a dehydrator or an oven.

Medicinal Uses
Uva ursi is a diuretic, astringent and useful anti-septic and tonic for the urinary tract, especially in cases such as cystitis. It can be used in mild urinary tract infections, as it’s very effective in destroying the E. coli bacteria in the urinary tract. It also treats diarrhea with it’s astringency. It is important to note that for uva ursi to be effective, the urine must be alkaline. This means avoiding acidic foods, such as citrus fruits and juice, vitamin c, and cutting back dairy and meat. Uva ursi can also provide relief from menstrual bloating and postpartum infection, but should be avoided by pregnant women as it can stimulate uterine contractions. It can also help high blood pressure, but as a diuretic, it can flush too much potassium from the body, so be sure to supplement with alkaline vegetables (such as bananas, broccoli, beet greens, chard, potatoes) while taking uva ursi. Uva ursi can also be used externally as a poultice or in creams and salves to speed the healing of wounds and stop bleeding.

Folk Uses
Traditionally, Western Native Americans used a decoction of the twigs and leaves to ease headaches, and mixed the leathery leaves to make kinnikinnik, a smoking mixture. The ancient Chinese used it to treat urinary and kidney problems, and was brought to Europe via the silk road by Marco Polo, where it gained popularity as a kidney and urinary tract remedy. It is still considered a good holistic approach to toning and maintaining kidney and urinary health today.

A tea can be made with 1-2 teaspoons of dried herb per cup of water, infused for 10-15 minutes. As Uva ursi has a a bitter, astringent taste, that can be reduced by first soaking the leaves in cold water overnight, then boiling into a decoction. It can also be prepared and taken as a tincture, taking 1-3 ml three times dailly. Occasionally, it will turn your urine dark green, but this will pass and is nothing to worry about. Be sure to drink plenty of water when taking diuretics of any kind.

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The small, campanulate flowers of the uva ursi shrub.

The small, urceolate flowers of the uva ursi shrub.

The autumn berries of the Uva ursi shrub.

The autumn berries of the Uva ursi shrub.