Bearberry

Image retrieved from www.purplesage.org.uk
on June 6th, 2013.


Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (common berry)
Arctous alpina (alpine bearberry)
Arctous rubra (red bearberry)

Other Names and Etymology
Kinnikinnick, stoneberry, mealberry, mountain tobacco, upland cranberry, bear grapes. Arctous is Greek for "bear" and Arctostaphylos translates as "bear's bunch of grapes," while the Latin word uva-ursi means "grape of the bear." The Van Tat Gwich'in word for alpine bearberry is jiindée. In their community of Old Crow, Yukon, the plant is also commonly called "bird's-eye berry."

Family
Ericaceae (heath family)

Botanical Descriptions
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi: A wiry, prostrate, evergreen perennial shrub that forms large mats that hug the earth. The small, deep green, leather-like leaves alternate, are 1-2 cm in length, shiny, and oblong. They grow on a red, shredded, woody, stem that lies just above the surface of the soil. Bearberry flower-clusters emerge in the spring. Each flower is a tiny pinkish-white bell with 10 stamens. Its fruit is dull red, mealy inside, and contains one hard-walled seed. The berries have a pithy texture and very little flavour when eaten raw. Arctous alpina's (alpine bearberry) leaves are obovate and textured turning a deep red in the autumn. The berries are edible but bland.
The berries of A. ruba (red bearberry) are red and almost translucent, and the leaves are bright green, thin, and highly textured. They grow up to 15 cm high. In the autumn the leaves are a blazing reddish orange colour.

Habitat and Range
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi: Likes sunny, sandy, and dry slopes, rocky areas, sandy soils, gravel ridges, riverbanks, and is ground cover in coniferous forests. Circumpolar, circumboreal, wide-ranging; in the NWT and Yukon found northward to the treeline. Arctous alpina: Likes acidic, rocky and gravelly situations and rocky tundra. Arctous rubra: Grows in peat-like soils near creeks,among open spruce forests, and rocky tundra. Circumpolar and wide ranging in North America, all Canadian provinces and territories, and all the western (cordilleran) northern and north-eastern states

Plant Parts Used
Leaves, berries, flowers

Harvest Time
The thick evergreen leaves of common bearberry can be gathered early spring through late autumn. In the winter, if needed, they can also be harvested from under the snow.

WHEN MY CHILDREN WERE YOUNG they would play on the hillside that our house sits on. The southern facing slope is covered with a bearberry carpet that leads down to a cold-water creek. In the early summer they would be drawn into the blooming mass of delicate, bell-shaped "pinkie fairy flowers," and occasionally pop the sweet, hillside delicacies they call "honeysuckles" into their mouths.


Medicinal Actions
Leaves; Anti-catarrhal, antilithic, antimicrobial, astringent, bitter demulcent, diuretic, enuresis, styptic, tonic, urinary antiseptic

Medicinal Preparations
Cold tea infusion, oil, ointment, sitz bath, steam, tea/infusion, tincture

Medicinal Uses
The medicinal deep green leaves of the bearberry plant were first documented in the Physicians of Myddfai, a thirteenth-century Welsh herbal reference book.
The leaves can be made into a tincture and are predominantly used as a urinary antiseptic for urinary-tract infections, including cystitis, urethritis, and prostatitis, The leaves' antimicrobial actions help to kill bacteria in the urine. A decoction of the leaves makes an excellent mouthwash for mouth infections and can also be taken orally to help with diarrhea. The antilithic properties help prevent the formation of and assist in the removal of stones from the urinary system.
One of bearberries main constituents is arbutin, which acts as an antibacterial in the genitourinary tract and can change the colour of urine to a harmless green.
Bearberry leaf also acts as a mild vasoconstrictor to the endometrial lining of the uterus therefore helping to alleviate pain associated with menstruation, the leaf decoction can also be used as a douche for vaginal ulceration and infection, and as a sitz bath after birthing. An infusion of leaves can be mixed with cranberry tea or juice for bladder infections, bearberry leaves are considered a powerful tonic for the sphincter muscle of the bladder, and is claimed to help with bladder-control problems and as a remedy for bedwetting.
The Van Gwich'in use the whole plant and berries as a tea or juice for chest pains, stomach ailments, and infections.
When making bearberry ifusion, the European Scientific cooperative on Phytotherapy (ESCOP) recommends making a cold-water infusion instead of a hot infusion because it contains fewer tannins, to prepare, crush leaves and steep overnight in cool water. In the morning, drink as is or warm up the drink, but do not boil; strain before drinking. this process increases levels of arbutin while decreasing potential tannin irritation. For urinary tract infections take 1/3 cup to 2/3 cup (80 to 160 mL) of tea at a time at least three times a day.
It's worth noting here that the cold infusion is an effective urinary disinfectant if the urine is alkaline. Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and fruit juice should be avoided due to their acidifying nature, but calcium and potassium citrates will help.
Bearberry's berries can be used to treat constipation, but should only be used for a short period of time.

Witch's Broom

If you look closely you may notice that many bearberry's leaves are covered with purple-brown spots. The spots are from a fungus, which in its early stages lives on the bearberry leaves for half a year and on the spruce the other half. Witch's broom--a thick, yellowy tangle of branches, twigs, and needles close to the trunk of the spruce tree is created by the fungus migrating back and forth between the to plants, in early summer it releases a mild ammonia- and fungus- like scent into the air, The fungus can't survive without dividing its life cycle between both plants. when harvesting for medicine, it's best to gather leaves that do not have the fungus on them.

Food Use
In a survival situation, the pithy red berries can be eaten for their high vitamin C content and carbohydrates which also can provide much needed energy to a tired hiker, boiling the berries helps to soften them for easier seed removal.

"In all things of nature there is something marvelous"
-Aristotle, philosopher (384 BC-322 BC)

Nutritional Profile
Berries: High vitamin C and carbohydrates, Leaves: Trace minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, and potassium. Dried leaves contain up to 28,000 IU of vitamin A per 100 g and trace amounts of zinc and vitamin C

Other Uses
Many northerners call bearberry "kinnikinnick," for its historical use in a blended smoking mixture made by First Nations. The mixture included dried bearberry leaves, Labrador tea, and wild sage leaves.
The dried bearberry leaves were traditionally used in aboriginal pipe ceremonies, other plants that were mixed included wild sage, red osier dogwood, and tobacco.
According to herbalist Robert rogers, "Bearberry flower essence is for those who seek to strengthen and increase their psychic abilities."
The tannins in the bearberry leaves create an ash-coloured dye that can be used for tanning hides.

Cautions
Large doses should be avoided during pregnancy. Do not take for longer than two weeks at a time. Raw berries can be toxic if eaten in large quantities.

Bearberry Tea

Over the years, many women have relayed stories to me of how bearberry leaf tea or tincture helped them when they were struck by a bladder infection, A cold infusion can be made as explained about but if you need quick relief prepare it as follows.


1 teaspoon (5 mL) of fresh or dried bearberry leaves
1 cup (30 mL) of water

Bring water to a boil. Remove from heat, add water to the leaves, cover, let sit for 15 minutes or until cooled.

pp. 51-54, The Boreal Herbal by Beverley Gray (2011)

bearberry, kennikinnick, stoneberry, mealberry, mountain tobbacco
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