Uva ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) Common name: Bearberry.

Uva Ursi

Photo Credit: David Eickhoff

This plant is found in colder, northern climates. It has red berries, which bears are fond of. The flowers are also red. The leaf is used medicinally.

The leaves and berries were used by numerous indigenous people from northern latitudes. Native Americans sometimes combined uva ursi with tobacco and smoked it. It was also used as a beverage tea in some places in Russia. The berries were considered beneficial as a weight-loss aid. It was found in wide use for infections of all parts of the body because of its astringent, or “drying,” action. It soothes and strengthens urinary membranes and may help relieve infections such as cystitis.

Active Ingredient

Its active ingredient is glycoside arbutin. Arbutin is present in fairly high amounts (up to 10%) in uva ursi. It has been shown to kill bacteria in the urine. Arbutin undergoes a highly complex process in the body. It is split into a small sugar molecule and a hydroquinone in the intestines, then the liver hooks the hydroquinone to another molecule. This makes it water soluble so it is easily carried via the blood to the kidney. There, if the urine is alkaline, the hydroquinone is released from its carrier. Hydroquinone is a powerful antimicrobial agent and is responsible for uva ursi’s ability to treat urinary tract infections. Arbutin has also been shown to increase the anti-inflammatory action of synthetic cortisone.

Study of Uva Ursi

The German Commission E monograph suggests 3 grams of uva ursi in 150 mL of water as an infusion to be taken three to four times daily. For alcohol-based tinctures, 5 ml three times per day can be taken. Herbal extracts in capsules or tablets (containing 20% arbutin) in an amount of 250–500 mg three times per day can also be taken. Use of it should be limited to no more than fourteen days. To ensure alkaline urine, 6–8 grams of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) mixed in a glass of water can be drunk. Baking soda should not be taken for more than fourteen days.

Precautions

Individuals with high blood pressure should not take baking soda. People should not use uva ursi to treat an infection without first consulting a physician.

Some people may experience nausea after taking uva ursi. Use of more than 2–3 weeks is not recommended, due to possible side effects from excessive levels of hydroquinone. People should avoid taking acidic agents, such as fruit juice (more than 16 ounces) or vitamin C (more than 500 mg), while using uva ursi. Certain medications interact in a positive and/or negative way with uva ursi. Discuss this with your doctor if you are taking any prescription medications.

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