Arctostaphylos uva-ursi-Bearberry

Family: Ericaceae

Names: Uva Ursi, Arbutus Uva-Ursi

Habitat: Britain, Central and Northern Europe, North America. Dry open woods, often on gravelly or sandy soils. It is also found on sand dunes along the coast and is also found on limestone in the European Alps.

Description of Bearberry:

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, Bearberry is an evergreen Shrub growing to 0.1 m (0ft 4in) by 1 m (3ft 3in) at a medium rate.
It is hardy to zone 4 and is not frost tender. It is in leaf 12-Jan It is in flower from Apr to July, and the seeds ripen from Jul to September. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees, self.The plant is self-fertile.

Suitable for: light (sandy) and medium (loamy) soils, prefers well-drained soil and can grow in nutritionally poor soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils and can grow in very acid soils.
It can grow in full shade (deep woodland) semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.

Arctostaphylos_uva-ursi_fruit,BearberryCulivation of Bearberry:

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, Bearberry, requires a deep moist well-drained light or medium lime-free loam in sun or semi-shade. One report says that this species succeeds in alkaline soils (a rather surprising comment considering the general needs of the genus – it is more likely that the plant can grow on limestone so long as the soil remains acid).Shade tolerant but plants produce less fruit when they are grown in the shade. Prefers a cool damp position. A very ornamental plant, it is sometimes cultivated for its medicinal uses. There are a number of named varieties developed for their ornamental interest. The form ‘Massachusetts’ is an especially prostrate, free-flowering and free-fruiting form. ‘Anchor Bay’, ‘Point Reyes’ and ‘Vulcan’s Peak’ have all been mentioned as good groundcover forms. This is one of the first plants to colonize bare and rocky ground and burnt over areas. It is often an indicator of poor soils in the wild. Plants resent root disturbance and should be placed in their final positions as soon as possible. Hybridizes with other members of this genus, especially A. columbiana.


Seed – best sown in a greenhouse as soon as it is ripe. Pre-soak dried seed in boiling water for 10 – 20 seconds or burn some straw on top of them and then stratify at 2 – 5°c for 2 months. The seed usually germinates in 2 – 3 months at 15°c. When large enough to handle, prick 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. Cuttings of side shoots of the current season’s growth, 5 – 8cm with a heel, August to December in a frame. The cuttings are very slow and can take a year to root. Division in early spring. Take care because the plant resents root disturbance. Pot the divisions up and keep them in a lightly shaded position in a cold frame or greenhouse until they are growing away actively. Layering of long branches in early spring.

Collection: The evergreen leaves may be collected throughout the year, but preferably in spring and summer.


Culinary uses of Bearberry:

Fruit – raw or cooked. Insipid, dry and mealy, it becomes sweeter when cooked. Added to stews etc., it is a good source of carbohydrates. The fruit can also be used to make a cooling drink or used for preserves etc. It can be dried and stored for later use. The fruit is about 6mm in diameter. A tea is made from the dried leaves.

Medicinal uses of Bearberry:


Part Used: The leaves.

Actions: Diuretic, astringent, anti-microbial, demulcent.

Indications: Uva Ursi has a specific antiseptic and astringent effect upon the membranes of the urinary system. It will generally soothe tone and strengthen them. It is specifically used where there is gravel or ulceration in the kidney or bladder. It may be used in the treatment of infections such as pyelitis and cystitis or as part of a holistic approach to more chronic kidney problems. It has a useful role to play in the treatment of gravel or a calculus in the kidney. With its high astringency it is used in some forms of bedwetting. As a douche it may be helpful in vaginal ulceration and infection.

Ellingwood gives the following specific symptomatology: “Its direct influence is upon relaxed conditions of the bladder walls, to which it imparts tone and induces normal contraction. It restrains excessive mucous discharges. “He recommends for these indications: ” ulceration of the bladder, cystitis, pyelitis, pyelonephritis, and gonorrhoea.”

Combinations: Uva Ursi may be combined with Couchgrass and Yarrow for infections of the urinary tract.

Preparations & Dosage:

Infusion: pour a cup of boiling water onto 1-2 teaspoonfuls of the dried leaves and let infuse for 10-15 minutes. This should be drunk three times a day.

Tincture: take 2-4ml of the tincture three times a day.

Other uses of the Bearberry:

Beads,  Dye,  Pioneer,  Soil stabilization,  Tannin,  Waterproofing

A yellowish-brown dye is obtained from the leaves; it does not require a mordant. A grey-brown dye is obtained from the fruit. The dried fruits are used in rattles and as beads on necklaces etc. The leaves are a good source of tannin. The mashed berries can be rubbed on the insides of coiled cedar root baskets in order to waterproof them. A good ground-cover for steep sandy banks in a sunny position or in light shade. A carpeting plant, growing fairly fast and carpeting as it spreads. It is valuable for checking soil erosion on watersheds. This is also a pioneer plant in the wild, often being the first plant to colonize burnt-over areas, especially on poor soils.

my_bearberry_fairyEsoteric uses of Bearberry:

Bearberry may be used to increase your intuitive and psychic abilities and skills. In “A Compendium of Herbal Magick” by Paul Beyerl it is recommended “that small daily amounts be taken as a spiritual tonic” to achieve this end. Some Native American peoples include Uva Ursi in their ritual pipe-smoking mixtures. Some tribes use Bearberry to train Shamans in the development of their skills in divination and prophecy.

The Chemistry:


  • Hydroquinones; mainly arbutin (hydroquinone[[beta]]-glucoside) and methylarbutin
  • Iridoids, monotropein
  • Flavonoids, quercitrin, isoquercitrin, myricacitrin and others
  • Miscellaneous; tannins, volatile oil, ursolic, malic and gallic acids.

 Bearberry is a very useful herb especially for bladder conditions and it grows well in the UK so if you are looking for a new shrub in your border and have young women in your household it is a must!

Citations from the Medline database for the genus Arctostaphylos

Bearberry (Uva-Ursi) Jahodar L Jilek P Paktova M Dvorakova V [Antimicrobial effect of arbutin and an extract of the leaves of Arctostaphylos uva-ursi in vitro]

Cesk Farm 1985 Jun; 34(5):174-8 (Published in Czech)Jahodar L Leifertova I Lisa M Investigation of iridoid substances in Arctostaphylos uva-ursi.

Pharmazie 1978 Aug; 33(8):536-7Kubo M Ito M Nakata H Matsuda H [Pharmacological studies on leaf of Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (L.) Spreng. I.Combined effect of 50% methanolic extract from Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (L.)Spreng. (bearberry leaf) and prednisolone on immuno-inflammation]

Yakugaku Zasshi 1990 Jan;110(1):59-67 (Published in Japanese)Matsuda H Nakata H Tanaka T Kubo M [Pharmacological study on Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (L.) Spreng. II. Combinedeffects of arbutin and prednisolone or dexamethazone onimmuno-inflammation]

Yakugaku Zasshi 1990 Jan;110(1):68-76 (Published in Japanese)Matsuda H Tanaka T Kubo M [Pharmacological studies on leaf of Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (L.) Spreng.III. Combined effect of arbutin and indomethacin on immuno-inflammation]

Yakugaku Zasshi 1991 Apr-May;111(4-5):253-8 (Published in Japanese)