Bearberry and bearberry leaves was first documented by The Physicians of Myddfai, a succession of 13th-century Welsh herbal physicians who lived in the village of Myddfai in Carmarthenshire, Wales.
Native Americans used bearberry leaves with tobacco and other herbs in religious ceremonies, both as a smudge (type of incense used for clearing the air of negativity) or smoked in a sacred pipe to carry the smoker’s prayers to the Great Spirit.
The primary health benefit of uva ursi as a medicinal herb is its use in treating urinary tract infections (UTIs) and bladder infections (cystitis).
Uva ursi works to reduce bacteria in the urine because it has chemicals called glycosides. In the body, glycosides are transformed into hydroquinone, which possesses antibacterial properties.
In addition, uva ursi is thought to lower inflammation with its astringent effect on mucous membranes, but the clinical research evidence does not fully support this claim.
Uva ursi’s infection-fighting properties come from several of the plant’s natural chemicals, including arbutin and hydroquinone. It also has tannins, a property that enables uva ursi to have an astringent effect.
This effect is what is thought to lend itself to helping fight infection by reducing inflammation. More scientific research is needed to verify uva ursi’s anti-inflammatory properties.
The antibacterial properties of bearberry have been found to inhibit the activities of bacteria such as E-coli and proteus-vulgaris as well as some strains of staphylococcus bacteria, thus protecting against and helping to prevent intestinal infections. Its high tannin content can be effective in the treatment of diarrhoea and dysentery.
Bearberry also contains diuretic phytochemicals, including ursolic acid, which are powerful astringents, and allantoin which helps to promote the growth of healthy new cells and the healing of wounds. It also contains tannic acid, a phenolic acid, which studies have shown has a number of health benefits including anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory and anti-tumour activity.
Pour 150ml of boiling water over 2.5g of finely chopped or coarsely powdered bearberry leaves and strain after 10 to 15 minutes. If you want to keep the content of tannins as low as possible, prepare a cold-water maceration.
You can also make a bearberry leaf herbal tincture by soaking the dried leaves in vodka or gin for 8 weeks then straining through cheesecloth. Store in a dark and cool place.
While bearberry is highly beneficial, specifically for the urinary system, it should not be used for more than five days at a time. Hydroquinone is a powerful compound that will kill bacteria, however, overuse can cause damage to the liver.
Not recommended for children, or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. People with high blood pressure or people who suffer from Crohns disease, digestive problems, ulcers, kidney or liver disease should avoid Bearberry products.