Uva Ursi (Bearberry)

One of the most effective plants for with acute or chronic rejection ladder is uva ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi). The name means "grapes of the bear" and refers to its unpleasant-tasting grape-like fruit. No one but a bear would want to eat it!

Uva ursi has been used since the earliest days of herbal medicine -- 13th century records show that it was used in Britain by the famous holistic Welsh physicians of Myddfai.

The long-standing popularity of this remedy can be attributed to its effectiveness in acting as an antiseptic and astringent on the membranes of the urinary system. It is one of the first remedies the medical herbalist thinks of when dealing with cystitis and chronic urinary tract infections, which so often defy conventional pharmaceutical treatment.

Cystitis is an inflammation of the wall and lining of the bladder, often caused by bacterial infection. A urinary tract refection can cause irritation or pain and there may be blood or pus in the urine, which is often cloudy.

Any abnormality should be diagnosed by a medical doctor. Blood in the urine is a critical sign. A relatively well-behaved urinary tract infection, often with Escherichia coli, (a bacterium common in the bowel where it does no harm) has to be distinguished from one of its nastier cousins, the sexually transmitted diseases. These would not respond to uva ursi.

Make it Work

Modern research (Max Wichtl's Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals, 1994), suggests that the antibacterial effect of uva ursi is not due to the arbutin contained in the plant but rather to the hydroquinone liberated in the urine from the metabolites hydroquinone glucuronide and hydroquinone sulphate. This delicate chemical process taking place within the body needs an alkaline environment. Avoid urine-acidifying foods and juices and eat a plant-based diet while taking uva ursi.

Uva-ursi has traditionally been thought of as a diuretic, although some modern authorities dispute this. The tannins found in the plant are capable of soothing, toning and strengthening the membranes of the urinary tract. Uva ursi is recommended for inflammatory conditions of the lower urinary tract. The maximum antibacterial effect is obtained three to four hours after taking the herb.

The German Standard License warns that uva ursi teas are not suitable for prolonged use without consulting a doctor. The German authorities also warn that (presumably for those with stomachs and palates more sensitive than those of a bear), it can cause vomiting.

The plant has been used successfully by trained herbalists because they usually combine it with others such as marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis rad) or couch grass (Agropyron repens) in equal parts. These additional plants provide soothing, mucilaginous properties to the remedy.

Uva ursi tea is made by pouring half a litre of boiling water over 28 grams of the finely cut or coarsely powdered herb. This should be steeped for 20 minutes. The tea can also be made by soaking the leaves in cold water for six to 12 hours. This is an advantage if marshmallow root is added. It will extract the mucilages without the starch and minimize the extraction of tannins from the uva ursi. One cup of the infusion can be drunk three times a day.

It is important not to exceed the prescribed dosage because large amounts of hydroxyquinone (also found in the plant) can cause ringing in the ears, vomiting, convulsions and collapse, according to Varro Tyler. The recommended dose of uva ursi is one gram three to six times a day (delivering an average of 400 to 800 milligrams arbutin daily). Doses as large as 20 grams have produced no adverse response in healthy individuals, so there is minimal cause for concern.

Uva ursi is not recommended for children, pregnant or lactating women. Moreover, if symptoms persist beyond two weeks, or worsen during treatment, medical advice is necessary.

If you are eager to use a herbal treatment for a chronic or acute urinary tract infection because you wish to avoid the possible adverse effects or ineffectiveness of conventional pharmaceutical treatments, arrange for a proper consultation with a qualified herbal practitioner. He or she is able to apply the principles of holistic herbal practice to your special case and advise on the use of pelvic basin drainers, nervines or even treatments for constipation which may have a bearing on your case. Consulting the experts in herbal medicine will give you a head start on the treatment that is right for you.

1. Grieve, M. A. Modern Herbal London: Jonathan Cape, 1931.

2. Wichtl, M. Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals. Stuttgart Medpharm Scientific Publishers, 1994.

3. Foster S, Tyler, V. Tyler's Honest Herbal: A Sensible Guide to the Use of Herbs. Fourth Edition. New York & London: The Haworth Herbal Press, 1998.

Canadian Health Reform Products Ltd.


By Keith Stelling

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