Low-lying evergreen shrub growing to 20 in (50 cm). Has long trailing stems, dark green leaves that are glossy on the upper side, bell-shaped pink flowers, and small glossy red berries.
Habitat & Cultivation
Uva-ursi is native to Europe, and naturalized throughout the northern hemisphere up to the Arctic. It grows in damp conditions in undergrowth, heathland, and grassland. The leaves are gathered in autumn.
The leaves of uva-ursi contain hydroquinones (mainly arbutin, up to 17%), tannins (up to 15%), phenolic glycosides, and flavonoids. Arbutin and other hydroquinones have an antiseptic effect in the urinary tract.
History & Folklore
The name uva-ursi means “bear’s grape” in Latin. Bears are fond of the fruit. The plant is first documented in The Physicians of Myddfai, a 13th-century Welsh herbal text.
Medicinal Actions & Uses
Uva-ursi is one of the best natural urinary antiseptics. It has been used extensively in herbal medicine to disinfect and astringe the urinary tract in cases of acute and chronic cystitis and urethritis. However, it is not a suitable remedy if there is a simultaneous infection of the kidneys.
Experiments have shown that uva-ursi extracts have an antibacterial effect. This action is thought to be stronger in alkaline urine—thus the efficacy of uva-ursi is likely to increase if it is taken in combination with a vegetable-based diet.
Do not take during pregnancy or with kidney disease. Unsuitable for children under 12. It is generally advisable to take uva-ursi for no more than 7–10 days at a time.