Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

Uva ursi—what a strange name even for an herb that is used for urinary problems. Some folks call it “bearberry,” “bear's grape,” “meal berry”, or “upland cranberry.” The Indians call it “kinnikinnik” when they mix it in their tobacco. Uva ursi means “bear's berry.”

Uva ursi is a wonderful herb for most urinary problems. A family was out camping in the mountains and their oldest son, who had attended an herbal college, was with them. The mother experience the return of a very painful bladder infection. Her son asked her to chew on a bearbery leaf until she could visit her doctor. She was very skeptical of a fresh-picked leaf. The only herbs she had taken were in capsules or teas in tea bags. After some persuasion, she agreed to chew on the leathery, strange-tasting leaf. To her surprise, in a fairly short time, the pain started to leave. She held the leaf and said, “Just a leaf, a plain, leathery, little leaf. How could it do it?” Soon her pain and her skepticism were gone.

Uva ursi is a small evergreen shrub that likes the cool weather. It grows up in the arctic, as well as in the conifer or evergreen forests in warmer climates. Although it is found in lower elevations, it grows best in higher mountains above 3,000 feet. Uva ursi, or bearberry, is a small, perennial, trailing or creeping shrub which grows low to the ground and forms a mat-like ground cover. The leathery leaf is small, kind of long (1 inch) and spatula shaped (wider at the tip). The new leaves are somewhat reddish in the spring. They get a bright shiny, green in the summer become thick and more leathery. Then, in the fall, they turn kind of greenish bronze.

The blossom is a white, five-pointed, urn-shaped flower with red tips that look waxy and almost unreal. The tough stems and branches have a mahogany color, which give you a clue that it is related to the manzanita or arctostaphylos genus.
Bearberry, or uva ursi, has many uses. It helps to reduce the accumulation of uric acid; it helps to relieve the pain of bladder stones and gravel; it helps to alleviate chronic cystitis; it will help rid mucus; pus and blood from the urine; it will help to stimulate the kidneys and strengthen and tone the mucous membrane or urinary passages; it will help to cleanse and strengthen the spleen and liver; it will help female problems; it will help bed-wetting problems; it is said to be helpful for diabetics; it has been used as a digestive stimulant; it is helpful in prostatitis and other ailments. Uva ursi is used in Grandma's herbal Kidney formula and Liver formula.

Uva ursi or bearberry is also good for enuresis or bed-wetting, weather it be for the young or the old. It can be used alone, but sometimes works better in conjunction with other herbs. An old herbal formula for bed-wetting is two parts bearberry, one part yarrow, and one part white poplar bark ( be sure to use the inner bark) and one part of corn silk (white). One part of sumac berries can be included if wanted. If the bed-wetting involves a child, watch those spicy foods and keep drinks to a minimum a few hours before bed time. To further help, you can roll up a small towel and safety pin it to the inside of the pajamas in the back so the child has difficulty lying on his or her back. Also, reduce their stress level. It makes a big difference.

Dr. Christopher says “Uva ursi has a specific healing action upon the genitourinary organs, especially in cases of gravel or ulceration of the kidneys or bladder. It is of great value in kidney and bladder problems, where it soothes, strengthens and tones the mucous membranes of the urinary passages. It is a solvent to urinic calculi deposits.”

Most herbalists agree that uva ursi is a wonderful herb for the urinary system. Besides being a diuretic, it is a soothing tonic that stones and soothes the system, it is an antiseptic and a disinfectant, it is astringent and in large, strong doses, it is an emetic that will make you throw up. Always treat herbs with much respect. Don't use them stronger than you should and don't use them longer than you need to.

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