The medicinal power of bearberry

The bearberry is native to North America, where bears like to snack on the fruits of this shrub. In addition to North America, the bearberry is also found in Scandinavia, Northern Europe, Iceland, Northern Asia and Northern Japan. Textile dyers used bearberry berries to color textiles blue. On Saturday they hung it up; it was initially yellow. Two days later, after oxidation, it turned blue. That was on Monday. The textile workers then had a day off. This fact gave rise to the expression ‘a blue Monday’. NB! This article is written from the personal view of the author and may contain information that is not scientifically substantiated and/or in line with the general view.

Botanical drawing bearberry / Source: Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen, Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)


  • Bearberry naming
  • History of bearberry
  • Active substances bearberry
  • Medicinal effect of bearberry
  • Other medicinal effects
  • External medicinal applications bearberry
  • Consult the herbal therapist


Bearberry naming

In Latin, bearberry is called Arctostaphylos Uva-Ursi . Arctostaphylos is a Latin corruption of the Greek words ‘arktos’ meaning bear and ‘staphylos’ meaning ‘grapes’. ‘Uva’ means ‘berry’ and ‘ursi’ means ‘bear’. Actually, the botanical name is a tautology; it says the same thing twice. The Dutch name bearberry is a translation of the Latin meaning. There are alternative names in Dutch: Zandbezie and Plaskruid. The last meaning is a reference to the medicinal properties of the leaves; a tea made from these leaves reduces the size of a benign prostate enlargement and disinfects the urethra. That makes urination easier.

History of bearberry

Indians living in what is now Canada used bearberry leaves for urinary tract infections, sprains, swellings and irritations. This medicinal plant was first mentioned in English herbal books in the 13th century as a medicine for urinary tract infections. Europeans and Indians had independently discovered the medicinal effects of this plant on the urinary tract. From the 16th century, bearberry leaf has also been mentioned on the continent as a means of treating inflamed urinary tracts. In the mid-18th century, the plant was included in the arsenal of medicinal plants used by university-trained doctors. It ended up in the English Pharmacopoeia, a book with an overview of medicinal plants and their effects. Because bearberry contains many tannins, it was used in leather processing. The leaf was also mixed with tobacco as a seasoning.

Active substances bearberry

The berries are edible but not used for medicinal purposes; only the leaf is used for this purpose. The leaf mainly contains hydroquinone monoglycosides such as arbutin, hydroquinone, methyl arbutin and to a lesser extent piceoside. Furthermore, it contains a little free hydroquinone. Tanning agents are contained in large numbers; ellagitannins, gallic acid and gallotannins. In terms of flavonoids, bearberry leaf contains: hyperoside, isoquercitrin, quercetin, quercitrin and myricetin. It also contains the pentacyclic triterpenes ursolic acid and oleanolic acid. To a lesser extent, bearberry leaf contains: the phenolic acids p-coumaric acid and syringic acid, essential oil, the iridoid monotropeid, allantoin, malonic acid, citric acid, quinic acid, formic acid, the bitter substance ericoline, the resin ursone, the glycoside piceine, vitamins B1, B2, B3 and C, beta carotene, the minerals calcium, magnesium, potassium, manganese, chromium, cobalt, aluminum, iron, phosphorus, selenium, silicon, sodium, tin and zinc, fiber, fats betasitosterol and taraxosterol.

Medicinal effect of bearberry

The main action of bearberry is that it is a mild urinary antiseptic; that is, it disinfects the urinary tract. Arbutin and methylarbutin are the main active substances. Chemical conversions via the liver produce the substance hydroquinone, a substance that, among other things, is antibacterial against the E.coli bacteria. Furthermore, it is an astringent or mucous membrane astringent. It is also a natural painkiller and an astringent. In addition, the tannins present reduce mucosal secretions and it is an anti-inflammatory agent due to the presence of tannins, ursolic acid, hyperoside and arbutin in bearberry leaf. All these medicinal effects make bearberry leaf an excellent remedy for:

  • Cystitis and recurrent cystitis,
  • Bearberry / Source: Walter Siegmund, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-2.5)

Benign prostate hypertrophy or benign prostate enlargement,

  • Honeymoon cystitis in sexually active women,
  • Bladder infection due to weakened resistance in the elderly,
  • Cystitis in postmenopausal women,
  • Repeated bladder infection due to reflux, the backflow of urine into the ureter,
  • Prevention of cystitis in catheterized patients,
  • Asymptomatic bacteriuria or bacteria in urine without symptoms,
  • strong odorous urine,
  • Chronic infections of the urinary tract,
  • Kidney inflammation,
  • Renal pelvic inflammation,
  • Puss in the urine,
  • Prostatitis,
  • urethral inflammation,
  • Bedwetting due to infections.


Other medicinal effects

Its medicinal effects on the bladder are the most common reasons for prescribing bearberry. There are also more medicinal activities:

  • Because bearberry has a mild diuretic effect and drives uric acid out of the body, it prevents kidney stones and kidney stones.
  • Overly acidic urine is counteracted by arbutin and the flavonoids present.
  • The astringent effect makes bearberry a remedy for diarrhea, dysentery and small and large intestinal inflammation.
  • It is used as an adjunct to mild respiratory diseases because it has a cough-soothing effect.


External medicinal applications bearberry

Due to the astringent effect of the tannins, bearberry is used to help the skin recover faster. It also whitens the skin. Mouth, skin, eyes and genitals can be treated with it to clear infections. An infusion can be made from the leaves with oil, which is applied with a shawl. This is a treatment method for:

  • Skin rash,
  • Redness of the skin,
  • Bearberry / Source: Walter Siegmund, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-2.5)

Minor burns,

  • Scalp flakes.


Gargling, mouthwash with cooled decoction:

  • Gingivitis,
  • Oral mucosal inflammation,
  • Canker sores.


Vaginal rinse:

  • white tide,
  • Vaginal inflammation.


Eye baths:

  • Conjunctivitis.


Wash with infusion:

  • Depigmentation of the skin.


Consult the herbal therapist

Bearberry leaf is not well tolerated by everyone, even if it is highly diluted. Bearberry leaves, unlike the fruits, should never be eaten; they contain too many tannins. Bearberry medicine gives urine a greenish color. A herbal therapist will prescribe never to do more than 5 treatments with bearberry per year. Children under 12 should not use it internally. It is also not good for pregnant women to use it. There are a number of contraindications and warnings that the herbal therapist can inform you about. Always consult a herbalist if you want to use medicinal plants. All medicinal properties in this book come from Geert Verhelst’s Large Handbook of Medicinal Plants, a standard work in phytotherapy.

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