The arbutus plant stands with the bear in Madrid’s shield, the capital city of Spain: this is the city’s symbol. The plant was already known by Dioscorides in the 1st century A.D., and also by the Roman naturalist Plinius, who said about it “Unum edo” (I eat one), from which the species Latin name, unedo was born.
The fruits of the arbutus plant can ferment when still on the tree and then contain up to 0.5 percent of alcohol. This fact gave birth to a curious Hispanic name for this tree: “borrachin,” which means “drunkard.”
Arbutus Plant Scientific Facts
- French: Arbre aux fraises.
- Spanish: Madrono.
- Environment: Holm oak woods and low mountains of Mediterranean Europe, and also known in some regions of Central and South America.
- Description: Evergreen shrub of the Ericaceae family, growing from two to three meters high, with white or green flowers which grow in clusters. The fruit is a berry, red when ripe.
- Parts of the plant used medicinally: The fruits, the leaves, and the bark.
Healing Properties and Uses
The fruit of the arbutus plant contains sugar, organic acids, pectin, and tannin. They have astringent properties, and it is not recommended to abuse them. The leaves and the tree’s bark contain up to 36 percent of tannin, which gives them strong astringent properties, and arbutin, a glycoside with antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties on the urinary system. They are used for urinary infections, cystitis, renal calculi, colic, diarrhea, and dysentery.
WARNING! The ripe fruit of arbutus can achieve a level of alcoholic content since the fermentation process can start even while they are still hanging from the tree. Because of this fact, and given their astringent properties, not more than a handful of berries per day should be eaten.
How to use Arbutus
- The fruit is consumed fresh or in jellies or marmalades.
- Decoction with dry leaves and bark, 30 grams per liter of water. Drink two or three cups daily for urinary afflictions and four or five for diarrhea.
George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. “Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants.” George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. Ed. Francesc X. Gelabert. vols. 2 San Fernando de Henares: Editorial Safeliz, 2000. 563. Print.