Bearberry, or uva-ursi, is the leaf of a member of the heath family. This trailing, lowgrowing evergreen shrub is found in cool temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, including North America, Europe, and Asia. Most of the leaf in commerce is wild-harvested.
Traditionally, the astringent leaves have been used for diarrhea and dysentery and for bladder infections and other afflictions of the urinary tract. It has also been a folk medicine in the treatment of bronchitis. Bearberry was long used as a urinary antiseptic by physicians; it was official in the U. S. Pharmacopoeia from 1820 to 1926.
Bearberry is an excellent example of an herb whose safe and effective use is far more complicated than simply preparing an herb tea. While often described as a "diuretic", bearberry does not strongly promote urination but rather serves as a urinary antiseptic. It contains arbutin and methylarbutin which are transformed into hydroquinone in the intestine. After this compound has been absorbed by the intestine, it binds to other compounds in the urine (if the urine is alkaline), forming two additional chemicals which kill or inhibit bacteria in the urinary tract. In Germany, bearberry is approved as a urinary antiseptic.
Bearberry is formulated in capsules, tablets, tea, and tinctures. The dried herb is generally used. In Europe, coated tablets, which dissolve in the intestinal tract instead of the stomach, are available, minimizing potential side effects (see below). The leaves should contain at least 6 percent arbutin for reliable effects.
Bearberry is high in tannins, which can produce stomachache, nausea, and vomiting. If you have a weak stomach, avoid bearberry. It is generally not recommended for children. Use should not be continued for more than a week except under the direction of a physician, as overuse may cause liver damage. It should not be used for suspected kidney disorders, as kidney disease cannot be self-diagnosed. Avoid during pregnancy.
Urinary tract infections, mild