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For other uses, see Bearberry (disambiguation).

Bearberries are three species of dwarf shrubs in the genus Arctostaphylos. Unlike the other species of Arctostaphylos (see manzanita), they are adapted to Arctic and Subarctic climates, and have a circumpolar distribution in northern North America, Asia and Europe, one with a small highly disjunctive population in Central America.


The name "bearberry" for the plant derives from the edible fruit which is a favorite food of bears.[1] The fruit, also called bearberries, are edible and are sometimes gathered as food for humans. The leaves of the plant are used in herbal medicine.[2]

Other recorded old English common names include arberry, bear's grape, crowberry, foxberry, hog cranberry, kinnikinnick, mealberry, mountain box, mountain cranberry, mountain tobacco, sandberry, upland cranberry, and uva-ursi.

Uses in folk medicine[edit]

Arctostaphylos alpina
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

The plant contains arbutin, ursolic acid, tannic acid, gallic acid, some essential oil and resin, hydroquinones (mainly arbutin, up to 17%), tannins (up to 15%), phenolic glycosides and flavonoids.[2]

The leaves are picked any time during the summer and dried for use in infusions, liquid extracts, medicinal tea bags and tablets believed to be potentially effective in folk medicine.[3]

Bearberry appears to be relatively safe, although large doses may cause nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, severe back pain and tinnitus.[4] It should not be used during pregnancy, breast feeding, or in children or patients with kidney disease.[3][5][6]

The efficacy and safety[4] of bearberry treatment in humans remains unproven, despite long-term use in folk medicine.[7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14] Although human pilot studies exist,[14][15] no large clinical trials have ever been conducted.

History and folklore[edit]

Common bearberry from Thomé Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885

Bearberry was first documented in The Physicians of Myddfai, a 13th-century Welsh herbal. It was also described by Clusius in 1601, and recommended for medicinal use in 1763 by Gerhard and others. Often called uva-ursi, from the Latin uva, "grape, berry of the vine", ursi, "bear", i.e. "bear's grape". It first appeared in the London Pharmacopoeia in 1788.

In Strathnairn, Scotland there is a hill, known as Brin Mains, but which is known in Scottish Gaelic as "Cnoc nan Cnàimhseag" which means "The hill of the bearberries".

Folk tales suggest Marco Polo thought the Chinese were using it as a diuretic. Bearberry leaves are used medicinally in parts of Europe, and are officially classified as a phytomedicine.[2] Native Americans use bearberry leaves with tobacco and other herbs in religious ceremonies, both as a smudge (type of incense) or smoked in a sacred pipe carrying the smoker's prayers to the Great Spirit. When mixed with tobacco or other herbs, it is referred to as kinnikinnick, from an Algonquian (probably Delaware) word for "mixture". Among the ingredients in kinnikinnick were non-poisonous sumac leaves,[16] and the inner bark of certain bushes such as red osier dogwood (silky cornell),[16] chokecherry, and alder, to improve the taste of the bearberry leaf.[17]


  1. ^ Janice J. Schofield (1989). Discovering wild plants: Alaska, western Canada, the Northwest. p. 217. ISBN 978-0-88240-355-7. 
  2. ^ a b c Pegg, Ronald B.; Rybarczyk, Anna and Amarowicz, Ryszard (2008) "Chromatographic Separation of Tannin Fractions from a Bearberry-leaf (Arctostaphylos Uva-ursi L. Sprengel) Extract by Se-hplc – a Short Report" Polish Journal of Food and Nutrition Sciences 58(4): pp. 485–490
  3. ^ a b American Botanical Council (1998). Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Thieme. ISBN 978-0-9655555-0-0. 
  4. ^ a b Allen C. Bowling (2006). Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Multiple Sclerosis. Demos Medical Publishing. p. 127. ISBN 978-1-932603-54-5. 
  5. ^ Nordeng H. and Havnen, G.C. (2005) "Impact of socio-demographic factors, knowledge and attitude on the use of herbal drugs in pregnancy" Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica 84(1): pp. 26–33, note 16, doi:10.1111/j.0001-6349.2005.00648.x.
  6. ^ Borins, M. (1998) "The dangers of using herbs: What your patients need to know" Postgraduate medicine 104(1): pp. 91–95, 99–100.
  7. ^ Jahodar L., Jilek P., Paktova M., and Dvorakova V. (1985) "Antimicrobial effect of arbutin and an extract of the leaves of Arctostaphylos uva-ursi in vitro" Ceskoslovenska Farmacie 34: pp. 174–178
  8. ^ Moskalenko S. (1986) "Preliminary screening of far-Eastern ethnomedical plants for antibacterial activity" Journal of Ethnopharmacology 15: pp. 231–259
  9. ^ Annuk H., Hirmo S., Turi E., Mikelsaar M., Arak E., and Wadstrom T. (1999) "Effect on cell surface hydrophobicity and susceptibility of Helicobacter pylori to medicinal plant extracts" FEMS Microbiology Letters 172: pp. 41–45
  10. ^ Park S. (1994) "The repression of listeriolysin O expression in Listeria monocytogenes by the phenolic beta-D-glucoside, arbutin" Letters in Applied Microbiology 19: pp. 258–260
  11. ^ Robertson J. and Howard L. (1987) "Effect of carbohydrates on growth of Ureaplasma urealyticum and Mycoplasma hominis" Journal of Clinical Microbiology 25: pp. 160–161
  12. ^ Ng T.B., Ling J.M., Wang Z.T., Cai J.N., and Xu G.J. (1996) "Examination of coumarins, flavonoids and polysaccharopeptide for antibacterial activity" General Pharmacology: The Vascular System 27: pp. 1237–1240
  13. ^ Nikolaev S., SHantanova L., Mondodoev A., Rakshaina M., Lonshakova K., and Glyzin V. (1996) "Pharmacological activity of the dry extract from the leaves for Arctostaphylos uva-ursi L in experimental nephropyelitis" Rastitelnye Resursy (Plant Research) 32: pp. 118–123
  14. ^ a b Larsson B., Jonasson A., and Fianu S. (1993) "Prophylactic effect of UVA-E in women with recurrent cystitis: A preliminary report" Current Therap Res Clin Exper 53: pp. 441–443
  15. ^ Parvez, Shoukat et al. (2006) "Survey and mechanism of skin depigmenting and lightening agents" Phytotherapy Res 20(1): pp.921 –934, doi:10.1002/ptr.1954
  16. ^ a b Upham, Warren (2001). Minnesota Place Names: A Geographical Encyclopedia. Minnesota Historical Society Press. p. 481. ISBN 978-0-87351-396-8. 
  17. ^ Staff (2009) "Bearberry" Discovering Lewis and Clark The Lewis and Clark Fort Mandan Foundation

External links[edit]