Uva-ursi: Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
Herbal Energetics: cool/dry. Bitter
Therapeutic Actions: anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antiseptic, astringent, diuretic
Folks, it is time we get familiar with our kidneys and the rest of the urinary system. These organs serve us well with astonishing regularity. And yet we frequently abuse them (alcohol, poor diet, too much/not enough sodium and other minerals, “holding it”) and chronically ignore them until something goes terribly, painfully, even embarrassingly wrong.
Bladder, ahem, weakness…
Just to name a few.
Thankfully nature offers an abundance of botanical allies to assist with kidney and urinary tract health. Uva-ursi is popular herb within a nearly universal application for urinary health.
Uva-ursi Medicinal Benefits
Perhaps one of the most well-known herbs in the holistic war chest for addressing complaints of the kidneys and urinary tract is uva-ursi. Due to its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, this herb has long been considered effective for relieving bladder/urinary tract infections and cystitis (bladder inflammation) and was even the preferred treatment method prior to the popularity of sulfa drugs.
At a sub-acute concern level, uva-ursi can decrease heavy, weighty, and toneless sensations surrounding the lower abdomen, as well as pelvic inflammation known as pyelitis. It helps to tone and dry urinary and vaginal tissues prone to excess mucus. It may also be supportive for complaints of an irritable bladder, urinary incontinence, and nocturnal leakage. Herbalist Matthew Wood indicates its use (in conjunction with nettle) for those with permanent catheterization to promote good kidney health. While conventional antibiotics are the most appropriate for kidney infections, uva-ursi can be a supportive adjunct therapy.
Although there is not an abundance of scientific evidence to promote its use for kidney stones, many traditional herbalists (myself included) have observed a marked reduction in pain complaint in clients using uva-ursi. This herb may also help to promote healing of renal, bladder, or vaginal ulceration.
Sometimes referred to as kinnikinnick or bearberry, uva-ursi tends to grow in dry, sandy, nutrient-poor soils with a relatively low pH – such as those near coastal areas and mountainous regions. It is very cold hardy and is well suited to “alpine” conditions. It is a fairly low growing shrub, forming a dense mat that spreads via rhizomes. The common monikers and the Latin name refer to the “bear” and “grape”, as it is the bright red, winter borne berries that serve as a food source for bears. However, it is the shiny green, rounded oval shaped leaves that are the most medicinally valuable.
Uva-Ursi Safety & Dosage
Uva-ursi is largely considered a safe herb, keeping in mind that it is both cooling and drying. As such avoid excessive and unnecessary use. Please consult a physician or pharmacist before using while taking prescription medication, or while pregnant or nursing.
Uva-ursi can be administered as a tincture, 2-4mls, three times daily, especially for acute complaints. It can also be prepared as an infusion using 10-12 grams of dried herb in 150mls of water according to the German Commission E. More simply, a tea can be created using 1-2 teaspoons of the herb in hot water.
Uva-Ursi Bladder Relief Tea
I tend to use uva-ursi tincture for acute concerns such as those that would indicate a bacterial bladder infection. Alcohol is very effective as extracting the glycoside arbutin, the active, antiseptic constituent in uva ursi. However, for chronic and sub-acute complaints such as inflammation of the pelvic region, bladder leakage, sense of fullness, and lax tissue, I prefer an infusion or tea over a tincture. Water very effectively extracts tannins, which are astringent, promoting firm healthy tissue and arresting/regulating excessive discharge of fluids. In short, the tannins strengthen and tone urinary tissues, while relieving inflammation.
For this blend, I selected herbs that strengthen and promote good urinary health, while also soothing irritable, sensitive tissues. A combination of uva-ursi, nettle leaf, rose, and marshmallow root delivers a good long term herbal option for persistent bladder complaints. It can be prepared as a tea or a stronger infusion and consumed daily. It is important to note that sufficient water intake is necessary for good bladder health.
Uva-Ursi Bladder Health Tea
Uva-ursi, sometimes called bearberry, is an outstanding tonifying and antiseptic herb with benefits for urinary and renal health.
- 1 oz uva ursi leaf dried
- 1 oz nettle leaf dried
- .5 oz rose petal dried
- .5 oz marshmallow root dried
Mix dried herbs together and store in an airtight container in a cool dry place.
To prepare steep 1-2 teaspoons of the blend into 8-10 oz of just boiled water. For a tea, steep 5-7 minutes; for a stronger infusion steep for 15 minutes. Strain and sweeten slightly if desired. Drink up to three times daily for persistent, low-grade bladder complaints.
Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism the science and practice of herbal medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.
Wood, M. (2016). Earthwise herbal repertory: traditional western herbalism. North Atlantic Books.