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Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)

A. officinalis. Arbutus uva-ursi. Uva-ursi procumbens. Uva-ursi uva-ursi.
Common Name Latin Name Plant Family
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

A yellowish-brown dye is obtained from the leaves[57, 101], it does not require a mordant[168].

A grey-brown dye is obtained from the fruit[257].

The dried fruits are used in rattles and as beads on necklaces etc[99, 257].

The leaves are a good source of tannin[46, 61, 212].

The mashed berries can be rubbed on the insides of coiled cedar root baskets in order to waterproof them[257].

A good ground-cover for steep sandy banks in a sunny position[188, 200] or in light shade[197]. A carpeting plant, growing fairly fast and carpeting as it spreads[208]. It is valuable for checking soil erosion on watersheds[212]. This is also a pioneer plant in the wild, often being the first plant to colonize burnt-over areas, especially on poor soils[155].

  • Medicinal Use

    Bearberry was commonly used by many native North American Indian tribes to treat a wide range of complaints and has also been used in conventional herbal medicine for hundreds of years, it is one of the best natural urinary antiseptics[254]. The leaves contain hydroquinones and are strongly antibacterial, especially against certain organisms associated with urinary infections[238]. The plant should be used with caution, however, because hydroquinones are also toxic[222].

    The leaves are antiseptic, astringent, diuretic, lithontripic, hypnotic and tonic[7, 9, 21, 102, 165, 172, 192]. The dried leaves are used in the treatment of a variety of complaints[4]. These leaves should be harvested in early autumn, only green leaves being selected, and then dried in gentle heat[4]. A tea made from the dried leaves is much used for kidney and bladder complaints and inflammations of the urinary tract such as acute and chronic cystitis and urethritis, but it should be used with caution and preferably only under the supervision of a qualified practitioner[4, 21, 46, 172, 222, 254]. The tea is more effective if the urine is alkaline, thus it is best used in combination with a vegetable-based diet[254]. Externally, a poultice of the infused leaves with oil has been used as a salve to treat rashes, skin sores etc, and as a wash for a baby’s head[257]. An infusion of the leaves has been used as an eyewash, a mouthwash for cankers and sore gums and as a poultice for back pains, rheumatism, burns etc[257].

    The dried leaves have been used for smoking as an alternative to tobacco[238]. One report says that it is unclear whether this was for medicinal purposes or for the intoxicated state it could produce[192], whilst another says that the leaves were smoked to treat headaches and also as a narcotic[257].

    The herb should not be prescribed to children, pregnant women or patients with kidney disease[238]. Another report says that some native North American Indian tribes used an infusion of the stems, combined with blueberry stems (Vaccinium spp) to prevent miscarriage without causing harm to the baby, and to speed a woman’s recovery after the birth[257].

  • Edible Use

    Fruit – raw or cooked[3, 7, 8, 62, 161, 257]. Insipid, dry and mealy[4, 101, 183], it becomes sweeter when cooked[212]. Added to stews etc, it is a good source of carbohydrates[101]. The fruit can also be used to make a cooling drink or used for preserves etc[161, 183]. It can be dried and stored for later use[257]. The fruit is about 6mm in diameter[200].

    A tea is made from the dried leaves[177, 183].

  • Cautionary Notes

    This plant is best not used by pregnant women since it can reduce the supply of blood to the foetus[172].

Cultivation & Habitat

Seed – best sown in a greenhouse as soon as it is ripe. Pre-soak dried seed in boiling water for 10 – 20 seconds or burn some straw on top of them and then stratify at 2 – 5¡c for 2 months[11, 200]. The seed usually germinates in 2 – 3 months at 15¡c[134]. When large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in a cold frame or greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant out in late spring or early summer. Cuttings of side shoots of the current season’s growth, 5 – 8cm with a heel, August to December in a frame. The cuttings are very slow and can take a year to root[1, 78]. Division in early spring. Take care because the plant resents root disturbance. Pot the divisions up and keep them in a lightly shaded position in a cold frame or greenhouse until they are growing away actively. Layering of long branches in early spring[200, 238].
Requires a deep moist well-drained light or medium lime-free loam in sun or semi-shade[3, 11, 200]. One report says that this species succeeds in alkaline soils[182] (a rather surprising comment considering the general needs of the genus – it is more likely that the plant can grow on limestone so long as the soil remains acid[K]).Shade tolerant[31] but plants produce less fruit when they are grown in the shade[200]. Prefers a cool damp position. A very ornamental plant, it is sometimes cultivated for its medicinal uses[1]. There are a number of named varieties developed for their ornamental interest[200]. The form ‘Massachusetts’ is an especially prostrate, free-flowering and free-fruiting form[183]. ‘Anchor Bay’, ‘Point Reyes’ and ‘Vulcan’s Peak’ have all been mentioned as good groundcover forms[200]. This is one of the first plants to colonize bare and rocky ground and burnt over areas[155]. It is often an indicator of poor soils in the wild[212]. Plants resent root disturbance and should be placed in their final positions as soon as possible[11, 134]. Hybridizes with other members of this genus, especially A. columbiana.
Britain. Northern N. America. N. Europe. N. Asia.

Become ungovernable, break the chains of the matrix; grow and forage your own food and medicine.

*None of the information on this website qualifies as professional medical advice. Take only what resonates with your heart and use your own personal responsibility for what’s best for you. For more information [brackets] [000], see bibliography.