An herb entry from the Ancient Herbs and Modern Herbs book by James K. Sayre, Copyright, 2001. All rights reserved.
Bearberry - Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (Arbutus uva-ursi) - Family: Ericaceae (Heath Family).
This is a perennial evergreen shrub which grows to about one and a half feet high. It has small leathery oval-shaped dark green leaves. In the spring and summer it produces clusters (racemes) of small white or pink urn-shaped flowers which are followed by bright red berries in autumn. These berries were a traditional food of Native Americans. Traditional American folk remedy of a tea made from leaves for urinary problems, bronchitis and diarrhea. Modern American folk use of leaves as a remedy for edema. Approved by the German Commission E as a remedy for urinary tract infections. The leaves of the Bearberry contain a significant amount of arbutin, a phenolic glycoside. When arbutin is combined with water (hydrolyzed) in the digestive tract, it releases hydroquinone. This hydroquinone acts as an antiseptic in the urinary tract. Note: may temporarily turn urine green (this is not considered to be a toxic effect). Note: large doses of Bearberry leaves may cause constipation and be quite toxic. Note: do not use if pregnant or nursing. Note: do not use if have kidney disease. Note: long-term use of leaves may yield a toxic reaction from hydroquinone. The dried leaves combined with the mordant alum yield a violet-gray dye. The dried leaves combined with the mordant iron yield a charcoal gray dye. Listed in the United States Pharmacopoeias from 1820 to 1920. Native to northern parts of Europe, Asia and North America. Cultivated as an ornamental in North America. Several cultivars exist.
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Web page last updated on 24 May 2003.