A small evergreen creeping shrub indigenous to Europe, Asia and the northern United States and Canada. The many-branched trailing stems are short and woody, covered with a pale brown bark, scaling off in Bearberry Flowers
patches, and form thick masses, 1 to 2 feet long. The long shoots rise upward from the stems for a few inches and are covered with soft hairs.
Leaves: Evergreen and of a leathery texture, from 1/2 inch to an inch long, like a spatula in form, rounded at the apex and tapering gradually towards the base to a very short stalk or petiole. The margin is entire and slightly rolled back and the young leaves fringed with short hairs. The upper surface of the leaf is dark, shiny green, the veins deeply impressed, the lower side is of a paler green, with the veins prominent and forming a coarse network. The leaves have no distinctive odor, but they have a very astringent and somewhat bitter taste.
Flowers: Waxy-looking, small, closely-crowded, drooping clusters, three to fifteen flowers together, at the ends of the branches of the preceding year, appearing in early summer. The corolla, about two-thirds inch across, is urn-shaped, reddish-white or white with a red lip, transparent at the base, contracted at the mouth, which is divided into four to five short reflexed, blunt teeth, which are hairy within. There are ten stamens, with chocolate-brown, antlers.
Fruit: About the size of a small currant, very bright red, smooth and glossy, with a tough skin enclosing an insipid mealy pulp, with five one-seeded stones.
Family: Ericaceae (Heath)
Other Names: Arberry, Bear’s Grape, Hogberry, Kinnikinnick, Mealberry
Mountian Box, Mountain Cranberry, Red Bearberry, Rockberry, Sandberry
Upland Cranberry, Uva Ursi
Flowers: May – July
Parts Used: Leaves (dried)
Habitat: Dry open woods, often on gravelly or sandy soils.
History: 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. The native Indian tribes used an infusion of the stems, combined with wild blueberry stems (Vaccinium) to prevent miscarriage without causing harm to the baby, and to speed a woman’s recovery after the birth.
The dried leaves have been used for smoking as an alternative to tobacco. One report says that it is unclear whether this was for medicinal purposes or for the intoxicated state it could produce, while another says that the leaves were smoked to treat headaches and also as a narcotic.
Constituents: Hydroquinone glycosides (including 8% arbutin, methyl-arbutin and ericolin), iridoids, 6% tannins, flavonoids, allantoin, resin (ursone), volatile oil, ursolic, malic and gallic acids.
Properties: Diuretic, astringent effect on lower digestive tract, urinary antiseptic, demulcent, hypnotic and tonic.
Main Uses: Arctostaphylos has a marked antiseptic and astringent effect on the membranes of the urinary system, soothing, toning and strengthening them. It is specifically used where there is gravel or ulceration in the kidney or bladder. It may be used in the treatment of infections such as urethritis and cystitis and is specifically indicated in acute catarrhal cystitis with dysuria and highly acid urine, where it helps to reduce accumulations of uric acid. With its high astringency it is used to treat some forms of enuresis and in diarrhea. As a douche it may be helpful in vaginal ulceration and infection. Arbutin is the principal constituent leading to antibacterial activity. Arbutin is converted to glucose and the antiseptic hydroquinone in the kidney tubules, but only if the urine is alkaline (pH8). This can be achieved through a vegetarian diet, (because meat protein is broken into amino acids through digestion causing an acidic pH), or by taking a heaping teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda. Bearberry tea may by used to relieve acute urinary infections, cystitis, and kidney stones, which dissolve in an alkaline pH. A tea can also be used to treat bronchitis and chronic diarrhea due to its astringency. When making a tea, do not boil the leaves because too much of the tannins are extracted, making a bitter, unpalatable tea which may cause nausea.
Harvest: The dried leaves are the only part of the plant used in medicine. They should be collected in September and October, only green leaves being selected and dried by exposure to gentle heat, (70 to 100 degrees F.) Gather the leaves in the morning after the dew has dried. Reject any stained or insect-eaten leaves. Drying may be done in warm, sunny weather out-of-doors, but in half-shade, as leaves dried in the shade retain their color better than those dried in direct sun.
Preparation and Dosages:
Tincture: [1:5, 50% alcohol, 30 to 60 drops in 8 ounces of water, up to 3
times a day.
Tea: Soak 1 to 2 teaspoonfuls of dried leaves in 8 ounces of water for 12 to
24 hours. Strain and warm before drinking. Add 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, if
desired. Drink 1 cup of tea 2 to 3 times a day for up to 7 days.
CAUTION! Long term use is not recommended because hydroquinine is poisonous in high doses and the level may build up if bearberry is used at high doses for long periods of time. Signs of toxicity are ringing in the ears, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, convulsions, delirium and collapse.
Bearberry should not be used by children or pregnant women.