Uva ursi: A Bit of Botany
a little botanical information on uva ursi

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi is a plant species of the Ericaceae family. It is a small procumbent woody groundcover shrub. Pure stands of Arctostaphylos uva-ursi can be extremely dense, rarely reaching heights over 6 inches. Single roots produce erect branching twigs emerging from long flexible prostrate stems. The trailing stems will layer, periodically sending out small roots.

The plant's shiny, small, leaves are evergreen and feel thick and stiff, they will remain green for 1–3 years before falling. They are alternately arranged on branches and their undersides are a lighter green than on the tops. Each leaf is held vertically by a twisted leaf stalk. The thick leathery dark green leaves grow about an inch in length and have rounded tips that taper back to the base. In the fall, the leaves start to change from a dark green to a reddish-green to purple.

The finely textured velvety branches are initially white to pale green, and with age become smooth and red-brown. If the plant is growing in full sun, new stems can be red, but remain green in shadier areas. The small solitary three scaled buds are dark brown.

In spring, white or pink terminal clusters of small urn-shaped flowers will blossom. These bear round, fleshy or mealy, bright red to pink berries. This smooth, glossy skinned fruit (drupe) will range from 1/4 to 1/2 inch in diameter. It will persist on the plant into early winter. Each drupe contains 1 to 5 hard seeds.

common names & nomenclature
The genus name Arctostaphylos is from the Greek arctos meaning "bear" (noun) and staphyle meaning "a bunch of grapes"; as such uva-ursi means "bear’s grape".

Also known as:
barberry, bearberry, bear's grape, mealberry, rockberry, sandberry, kinnikinnick, upland cranberry, pinemat manzanita

Uva Ursi, the bearberry herb
Uva ursi: Where in the World
habitat and range for uva ursi

Arctostaphylos uva ursi grows throughout central and northern Europe, Asia and North America.

Uva ursi: Cultivation & Harvesting
considerations for growing and harvesting uva ursi

Uva ursi prefers dry open woods, and also grows in gravelly or sandy areas. It can also be found on sand dunes along the coast in full to part shade.

The plant requires a deep moist well-drained light or medium lime-free loam.

Sow seeds in a greenhouse as soon as they are ripe. Dried seeds should be pre-soaked in boiling water for 10-20 seconds (or can have some straw burnt on top of them) then they are stratified at 2-5°C for 2 months. The seed will usually germinates in 2 - 3 months at 15°C. When large enough to handle, transplant 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.

The leaves should be harvested in early autumn. Only green leaves should be collected, and then dried in gentle heat for later use.

Store dried uva ursi leaves and powdered uva ursi in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

Uva ursi: The Rest of the Story
uva ursi history, folklore, literature, & more

Uva ursi has been used as a diuretic and urinary antiseptic for more than 1,000 years by cultures as widely separated as the Chinese and American Indians. Today it is an ingredient in most herbal diuretics and urinary remedies and many weight-loss formulas. Even herbal conservative Varro Tyler, Ph.D., calls it "a modestly effective urinary antiseptic and diuretic."

The Roman physician Galen used uva ursi's astringent leaves to treat wounds and stop bleeding. But this herb was largely ignored by Western Herbalists until the 13th century, when Marco Polo reported Chinese physicians using it as a diuretic to treat kidney and urinary problems. Polo's famous travelogue re-popularized uva ursi in Europe as a urinary and kidney remedy.

Uva ursi's association with the kidney was strengthened by the medieval Doctrine of Signatures—the idea that a plant's physical appearance revealed its healing virtues. The herb grew in rocky, gravelly places, and at the time kidney stones were called gravel.

In the urinary tract, the arbutin in uva ursi is chemically transformed into an antiseptic chemical, hydroquinone, according to several studies. In addition, the herb contains diuretic chemicals, including ursolic acid, powerful astringents (tannins), and a chemical that helps promote the growth of healthy new cells, allantoin.

URINARY AILMENTS: Together, the actions of uva ursi's active chemicals support its age-old use in urinary tract infections (UTIs), and other urinary ailments. Some herbalists report uva ursi has cured UTIs unresponsive to pharmaceutical antibiotics. This is certainly possible, but scientific sources say pharmaceutical antibiotics are generally more effective. For mild urinary symptoms, try uva ursi as herbal first aid. For urinary problems requiring professional care, use the herb in addition to standard therapies. But there's an important catch to using uva ursi. To receive the greatest antiseptic benefit, the urine must be alkaline, which means you must avoid acidic foods and supplements, such as sauerkraut, citrus fruits and their juices, and vitamin C, while taking it.

WOMEN'S HEALTH: Diuretics may provide relief from the premenstrual bloating that bothers many women. Pregnant and nursing women should not use diuretics, however. Uva ursi also stimulates uterine contractions in animal studies, making it even more off-limits to pregnant women.

WOUND HEALING: Uva ursi's allantoin may help spur wound healing. Allantoin is the active ingredient in several over-the-counter skin creams, such as Herpicin-L Cold Sore Lip Balm, for relief of oral herpes, and Vagimide Cream, for irritation associated with vaginal infections.

Uva ursi often turns urine a dark green. Do not become alarmed.

Herbal weight loss formulas typically contain diuretics. Uva ursi is the diuretic most often used. Because they boost urine production, diuretics temporarily eliminate some water weight. Weight loss using diuretics almost always invariably returns. Weight control experts do not recommend diuretics. The key to permanent weight control includes a low-fat, high fiber diet, and regular aerobic exercise.

The Food and Drug Administration lists uva ursi as an herb of "undefined safety." For otherwise healthy non pregnant, non nursing adults, uva ursi is considered relatively safe in amounts typically recommended.

Uva ursi should be used in medicinal amounts only in consultation with your doctor.