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The Wise Uva Ursi (The Bearberry)

AKA: Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, L. Family: Ericaceae; aka: Bearberry, Bear's grape, Hog Craneberry, Kinnikinnick, Sandberry.

Propagation/Description: Uva Ursi (better known as Bearberry) can be extremely dense, with heights rarely taller than 6 inches, which are produced by single roots. The trailing stems will layer, sending out small roots periodically. The velvety branches are initially white to pale green, becoming smooth and red brown with maturity. The simple leaves of this broadleaf evergreen are alternately arranged on branches. Clusters of small urn-shaped flowers bloom from May to June. The fruit will range from 1/4 to 1/2 inch in diameter and will persist on the plant into early winter. It is native from Labrador to Alaska, south to Virginia, Illinois, Nebraska, and in the mountains from New Mexico north through California to Alaska. This long-lived, low growing shrub is very cold tolerant. This plant prefers coarse well to excessively drained soils of forests, sand dunes, bald or barren areas and grows well in partial shade. It does not tolerate moist or off-drained sites. Seed sown in early summer will improve germination the following spring, but this technique is not as reliable as cuttings. Softwood cuttings should be harvested in late summer, and rooted stem cuttings are most successful when harvested during the dormant season. This shrub species requires very little maintenance once it has been established.

Folklore/History: The name, Uni Ursi, means “bear’s grape” in Latin as bears are fond of the fruit. It has been used medicinally since the 2nd century and was first documented in The Physicians of Myddfai, a 13th century Welsh herbal text. Native Americans used it as a remedy for urinary tract infections. It was recommended for medicinal use in 1763 by the German pharmacist, Gerhard. Legend says that Marco Polo thought the Chinese were using the herb as a diuretic. Magickal lore surrounding Bearberry falls into two major areas: Psychic power/divination, and connection with the animal kingdom. Native American Indians used the leaves as an ingredient in smoking mixtures for peace pipes. It was believed to be calming and support mental clarity to align a person with their own inner strength, and to help connect with ancestral knowledge. Shamans used Bearberry for shape-shifting magic. The smoking blend known as Kinnikinnick by Native Americans was believed to increase gifts of vision and prophecy, purify ritual space, and carry prayers to the heavens.

Medicinal: It’s ability to fight infection is due to several chemicals, including arbutin and hydroquinone. The herb also contains tannins that have astringent effects, helping to shrink and tighten mucous membranes in the body. In turn, that helps reduce inflammation and fight infection. When combined with dandelion root and leaf, helped prevent recurrent UTIs. It contains Glucoside (Arbutin), Allantoin, Hydroquinone (crystalized arbutin), Ursolic acid, Phenolic acid, Tannic acid, Flavonoid glycosides, Minerals, Trace Minerals (Calcium, Iron, Chromium, Selenium, Magnesium). It has also been used to treat dysuria, cystitis, urethritis, and kidney and bladder stones and is recommended for inducing diuresis and to treat constipation. It is very high in tannins so careful use is recommended as in too high dosages it can cause nausea and other stomach irritations.

***Not recommended for use by children under the age of 12 or for long time usage. Never consume longer than 7-10 days at a time. Do not use it if pregnant or nursing or if you have chronic kidney disease. ***

Spiritual: It is associated with strength (and thus connected to the Queen of Pentacles in tarot), psychic workings, knowledge, honoring ancestors, courage, and the healing of others. It has also been used by sprinkling powdered or crumbled leaves in your shoes is supposed to take you to your true love.

Summary: While Uvi Ursi (Bearberry) is extremely helpful with infection and inflammation it is one of those herbs that must be treated and used with respect and wisdom. The spiritual properties are to be held with the utmost reverence and respect as well. This powerhouse can be both healing and detrimental. I ultimately feel that nature is the higher power in our universe. It holds the ability to both heal when approached with respect and reverence and harm when disregarded or disrespected. Make sure you are seeking the wisdom and knowledge out there to use and preserve nature and what she has given us!

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