This herb is so widely used that it pretty much has a different nickname for each of its different uses or regions; hog cranberry and sandberry are just two. Uva ursi flourishes independently along canyon walls of North America, Europe, Siberia, Himalayas, and the Iberian Peninsula. In North America, it’s nickname is bearberry - the latin translation is actually bear’s berry - because, well, bears love to eat them. The berries grow a bright pink or red and have a sour taste but the dried, oval-shaped leaves of the evergreen bush is where the medicinal value is stored.
Up until the discovery of antibiotics, people around the globe used uva ursi as a common treatment for bladder infection, urinary tract infection, inflammation, kidney and bladder stones, diabetes, and venereal disease. It has also been known to relieve allergies, fight bacteria and viruses, help reduce blood pressure and even brighten skin. Many commercial skin bleach products use uva ursi. Native Americans added it to tobacco and called it kinnikinnick or smoke mixture.
Studies of uva ursi have found many chemicals in the leaves effective at treating urinary tract issues. The chemicals have astringent effects that help to reduce inflammation, fight infection, and shrink tissues. Some cultures mix uva ursi with dandelion root or leave to supposedly prevent recurring urinary tract infections. Uva ursi should be taken in moderation for no longer than 5 days. The chemicals corilagin, arbutin, and other tannins convert into hydroquinone; which can prevent the growth of bacteria and reverse oxidative damage, but can cause liver damage if used for a long period of time. Some side effects include mild nausea or vomiting, irritability, and insomnia.
-Kimberly J, June 2020
Uva ursi leaves with berries. The dried leaves have medicinal value.