Arctostaphylos uva ursi L.
Uva Ursi’s genus name Arctostaphylos is derived from the Greek arcto (meaning “bear”) and staphyles (meaning “bunch of berries or grapes”) hence the one of the common names of Uva Ursi: bearberry. The species name, as well, indicates bearberry, for Latin uva means “grape” and Latin ursi means “of the bear.” Uva Ursi is used in Scandinavia to tan leather, it can also be prepared as a foot soak to help hikers in the mountains toughen up their feet. The leaves are not considered edible, generally. The berries (while bland) can be used as survival food, help quench thirst, and stimulate saliva flow.
Uva Ursi leaf is considered a restorative and stabilizing leaf, a leaf that works to clear damp heat and reduce infections in the body – particularly working to help the urogenital organs, and both the small and large intestines. It has both a bitter and pungent taste quality. It promotes a downward movement and dispersing of pathogens. This leaf also has cold and dry qualities – working to cool down the heat of infection and dry up the mucus that forms to house pathogens.
Considering it’s top function is to clear damp-heat and reduce infection, Uva Ursi first and foremost helps alleviate urinary tract infections – especially acute internal urethritis, cystitis, pyelitis, and glomerulonephritis UTI. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, these ailments fall under the pattern Bladder and Kidney damp-heat.
Our leaf also helps with dysentery – considered a Large Intestine damp-heat pattern in TCM. The TCM pattern Genitourinary damp-heat can manifest under STD/STI pathogens, or manifests with thick, purulent genital discharges – gonorrhea, cervicitis, vaginitis, candida – and Uva Ursi can help alleviate these ailments, as well.
Uva Ursi astringes to stop discharge and bleeding, while promoting tissue repair. Examples of damage Uva Ursi helps heal are hemorrhages (acute or chronic), hemorrhoids, bladder ulcerations or postpartum tissue traumas. Internal hemorrhoids or postpartum tissue issues can be best medicated through suppository, sitzbaths, douches or sponges. To prepare the leaf for these methods, one will simply make an infusion (what many consider a tea) of the leaf to use.
Lastly, Uva Ursi helps to “Tonify Urogenital Qi” – this can be interpreted as creating harmony in the urinary system, balancing and strengthening the energies flowing through these organs. A TCM pattern called Kidney and Bladder Qi Deficiency with damp manifests as urinary incontinence and irritations, or bladder stones and associated infection. Uva Ursi helps disperse these bladder stones and helps get the downward direction of the Bladder Qi re-established.
Your Uva Ursi leaf should not be over nine months old – otherwise, your leaves may have lost their arbutin content, which is the highlight of it’s medical value! Some other constituents of Uva Ursi include flavonoids, quercetin and myricetin-like flavonoids, gallic and ellagic tannins, triterpenoids, allantoin, gallic/malic/ursolic/phenolic/ursodesoxycholic acids, myretene, and trace minerals such as iron, calcium, selenium and magnesium.
Leaves wildcrafted in the autumn are most effective in general, and higher altitude Uva Ursi is considered much stronger than lower altitude Uva Ursi.
To prepare an infusion of Uva Ursi leaf, one can use 4 to 8 grams of Uva Ursi and filtered water. Typically, 1 tablespoon of herb is used for 1 cup of water. Simply place the herbs in a Mason jar and cover with just-boiling filtered water. Put the lid on the jar and let the herbs infuse for twenty minutes. This can be drank for internal healing, or used for the sitzbaths or douches needed for postpartum tissue repair or hemorrhoids. Drink one cup unsweetened on an empty stomach, half an hour before eating. Dose three times a day!
It may be more convenient to purchase a tincture of Uva Ursi for medicine. Find a 1:3 in 45% alcohol, a dose will be 1 to 3 ml. One dropper-full is equivalent to 1ml. Or, if a different ratio and alcohol content is available at the apothecary or health food store, check the recommended dose on the bottle and follow the suggestion. Put your dose in a bit of water or 100% pure and organic cranberry juice to dilute. Dose three times a day!
(Sometimes bottles recommend a much lower dose than needed. This is for protection of those who made the medicine. If no progress is being made with the recommended dose, increase with awareness, caution, and with proper herbal combinations. In Uva Ursi’s case, combine with a demulcent herb to avoid irritating side effects.)
From Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health, 2008
2 parts Cleavers herb (Gallium aparine)
2 parts fresh or dried cranberries
2 parts Uva Ursi
1 part Chickweed (Stellaria alsine)
1 part Marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis)
Combine herbs and prepare as an hour-long infusion, remembering the ratio 1 tablespoon of herb to 1 cup of filtered water. Drink 4 cups daily, ¼ cup at one time.
UVA URSI CAUTIONS!
While Uva Ursi is considered a mild remedy, there is a risk of moderate chronic toxicity with overuse. Large or frequent dosing can irritate your stomach’s mucus linings. It’s considered safe to use up to one week, but sufficient breaks must be taken in-between continuing use. It is incredibly helpful to combine Uva Ursi with a demulcent herb – such as licorice root, linseed or Codonopsis/Dang Shen – to avoid constipation and irritations with use.
It is best to avoid Uva Ursi in cases of kidney disease and hypoglycemia, and avoid prolonged use in children because of possible liver impairment.
Avoid during pregnancy, for Uva Ursi may decrease circulation to uterus or cause labor contractions due to it’s oxytocic action. Of course, this means Uva Ursi could be used for labor induction if a woman is experiencing difficulty in labor or a failure to progress in labor.
The Energetics of Western Herbs Vol. 1 and 2, Fourth Edition, Peter Holmes, 2006
The Desktop Guide to Herbal Medicine, Brigitte Mars, A.H.G., 2007