Bearberry is the leaf of a member of the heath family.
The generic name, derived from the Greek, and the Latin specific name, Uva Ursi, mean the same: the Bear's grape, and may have been given to the plant, either from the notion that bears eat the fruit with relish, or from its very rough, unpleasant flavor, which might have been considered only fit for bears.
Bearberry is a safe and effective herb whose use is far more complicated than simply preparing an herb tea.
Bearberry as an Herb for Medicinal Uses
Traditionally, the astringent leaves have been used for diarrhea and dysentery and for bladder infections and other urinary tract problems.
In folk medicine it was a treatment for bronchitis.
Bearberry was long used as a urinary antiseptic by physicians. It is official in nearly all Pharmacopceias, some of which use the name Arbutus. It was official in the U. S. Pharmacopoeia from 1820 to 1926.
Bearberry, often described as a diuretic, does not in fact promote urination. Instead, it serves as a urinary antiseptic in that it forms chemicals which kill or inhibit bacteria in the urinary tract.
In Germany, bearberry is approved as an official urinary antiseptic. The diuretic action is due to the arbutin, which is largely absorbed unchanged and is excreted by the kidneys. During its excretion, Arbutin has an antiseptic effect.
Pure Bearberry Extract
Pure bearberry extract contains natural arbutin for lightening and bleaching skin discolorations such as sun spots, age spots, freckles, melasma, etc. It acts as an antioxidant, increasing cell turnover rate. It will lighten just about any skin discoloration. Bearberry can dramatically change the tone and color of the skin over time.
Results from use of the extract are achieved with continued use, anywhere from a few weeks to a few months depending on the depth and age of the pigment. The longer the pigment has been there, the longer it will take to remove. Used regularly, Bearberry can remove the most stubborn pigmented areas of the skin. The extract goes a long way, too. Using your favorite cream, lotion or serum, dilute the extract with 5 to 10 drops of Bearberry per ounce of cream.
Besides the simple infusion (1 ounce of the leaves to 1 pint of boiling water), the combination of 1/2 ounce each of Uva-Ursi, Poplar Bark and Marshmallow root, infused in 1 pint of water for 20 minutes is used with advantage.
The dried leaves are the only part of the plant used in medicine. In Europe, coated tablets that dissolve in the intestinal tract instead of the stomach, are available, minimizing potential side effects.
Bearberry is high in tannins, which can produce stomachache, nausea, and vomiting. If you have a weak stomach, avoid bearberry. It is generally not recommended for children. Use should not be continued for more than a week except under the direction of a physician, as overuse may cause liver damage.
The tannin in the leaves is so abundant that they have been used for tanning leather in Sweden and Russia.
Native Americans added the leaves to 'kinnikinnick' (a smoking mixture) in their peace pipes; this was smoked during tribal councils; was believed to be calming and mentally clarifying. The word 'kinnikinnick' is Algonkian, Cree, or Ojibwa, meaning 'that which is mixed'. 'Sagacomin' is an Algonkian word meaning 'smoking leaf berry'.
Culinary Uses of Bearberry
The fruit (kinnikinnick) is used the same as Manzanita; also used for seasoning meats.
Arthritis Tea: Combine equal parts Bearberry Leaves, black cohosh, chamomile, cascara sagrada, pokeweed root and sassafras; steep 1-1/2 teaspoon of the mixture in 1 cup of boiling water for 10 minutes; take 1 cup morning and evening.
Culinary uses are not recommended or all that safe.
Not to be taken by children, or those with kidney disease.
High doses cause nausea and can actually inflame the lining of the bladder and urinary tract. Overuse can cause symptoms of poisoning. Long term use can cause liver damage, especially in children.
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