The bearberry plant was a favorite food among bears when they lived in the European mountains. The bears enjoyed the tiny berries that resemble small apples. Although the berries are edible, the medicinal uses of the plant reside mainly in the leaves.
The medicinal use of the bearberry plant began long ago in northern European countries, but classical Roman and Greek botanists did not know this plant. In the 18th century, the excellent properties of this plant to treat urinary ailments were already known all over Europe and America. Today, its properties have been proven in scientific research, and it is a valuable remedy for people suffering from urinary ailments. Hence several pharmaceutical preparations are made from bearberry extract.
Bearberry Plant Scientific Facts
- Scientific synonyms: Arbutus uva-ursi L.
- Other names: Arberry, bear’s grape, kinnikinnick, mealberry, mountain box, mountain cranberry, red bearberry, sagackhomi, sandberry, upland cranberry, uva ursi.
- French: Raisin d’ ours, busserole.
- Spanish: Gayuba, uva de oso.
- Environment: Native to northern Europe and Asia, it is widely spread all over Europe and North America. It usually grows in rocky soils and on mountain slopes.
- Description: Woody shrub of the Ericaceae family, growing from 15 to 30 cm high, with long, creeping stems, and evergreen, small, fleshy leaves dark green in color. Its flowers are round, white, or pink, and its fruit is bright red berries.
- Parts of the plant used medicinally: The leaves.
Healing Properties and Warning
The leaves of the bearberry plant contain high amounts of tannin, which give the plant astringent properties, flavonoid glycosides, to which bearberry owes its mildly diuretic properties and fatty and resinous substances. However, its most crucial active component is arbutin, a phenol glycoside whose genine is hydroquinone. This substance provides a powerful antiseptic and anti-inflammatory action on the urinary organs and is eliminated through the urine.
The urine must have an alkaline reaction for the hydroquinone to exert its action since the alkaloid is neutralized in acid pH environments. This is no problem for those with vegetarian diets, as they have alkaline urine. However, those people with diets rich in meat and shellfish produce acid urine, and the bearberry plant cannot exert its beneficial action.
Therefore, we recommend a vegetarian diet followed when the treatment of bearberry is intended. This diet must be rich in fruits and vegetables. Besides causing the urine to become alkaline and allowing bearberry to act, it will positively affect urinary afflictions. The urine can also become temporarily alkaline by taking sodium bicarbonate, though the action of this substance does not last for long and has several side effects.
Since the germs which cause urinary infections usually become resistant to habitual antibiotics and antiseptic substances, bearberry offers a valid alternative to treat such afflictions. However, for urinary infections, you should always see the doctor. The bearberry plant, alone or combined with other treatments, is recommended in the following cases:
- Pyelonephritis. This is the infection of the renal pelvis (a cavity inside the kidneys), in which the urine that is produced collects. This affliction manifests itself with intermittent high fever, cloudy urine, and kidney pain. Bearberry acts as an antiseptic and anti-inflammatory substance by eliminating its active components through urine.
- Cystitis. (infection and inflammation of the urinary bladder). Bearberry eases the sensation of burning and pain suffered when urinating. It is especially effective for chronic cystitis, proven resistant to other treatments.
- Urethritis. An infection of the urethra, which in some cases can be caused by sexually transmitted diseases.
- Prostatitis. Almost always caused by urinary infections.
- Kidney sand and stones. According to some people, bearberry dissolves kidney stones; this has not been proven. It has a beneficial action on these afflictions since it prevents the urine infections that usually go with them. The bearberry plant gives a greenish color to urine, which shows the treatment is effective.
WARNING! Treatments with bearberry must not last longer than ten days or 15 as a maximum. If needed, they can be repeated after a few weeks. Some people with delicate stomachs may present digestive intolerance to the bearberry leaves’ tannin. In such cases, we recommend that you make herbal teas less concentrated (only 20-30 grams of leaves) and take charcoal simultaneously, which absorbs tannin.
How to use Bearberry
- Decoction with 50-60 grams of dry ground leaves, previously soaked for 3-4 hours, per liter of water. Boil for 15 minutes and drink a cup every 3-4 hours. Intake should be close together since bearberry’s active principles are quickly eliminated through urine.
- Cold extract with 50-60 grams of leaves in a liter of water. Steep for 24 hours, then strain and drink three cups daily, gently heated. This is an excellent way to take bearberry, which lacks undesirable side effects of tannin, though the results are less intense than those of the decoction.
- There are several pharmaceutical preparations based on bearberry extract, which doctors can prescribe depending on the patient’s condition.
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. 564, 565. Print.[bearberry plant]