Uva ursi leaves have been used for centuries as a mild diuretic and in the treatment of bladder and kidney infections. The leaves also have anesthetic properties that help to numb urinary-tract pain. It has been used for liver ailments. Herbalists also recommend the herb as a diuretic for fluid retention, bloating, and swelling. The German Commission E has approved uva ursi for infections of the urinary tract.
The tannins in uva ursi act as an astringent and the phenol glucosides have antibacterial effects. The antimicrobial effect is associated with a substance released from arbutin (an extract of the herb). This makes this herb a urine-sterilising agent, and some practitioners recommend its use internally and externally for inflammatory conditions such as dermatitis, edema, arthritis, and hyperpigmentation disorders.
Bearberry; bear’s grape, upland cranberry, arbutus, hog cranberry, arberry, mountain cranberry, mountain box, kinnikinnik, creeping manzanita, coralillo; Bärentraube (German); Macznica Garbarska, Chroscina (Polish); coralillo (Mexican); Rasin d’ours, Busserole (French)
The name uva-ursi means “bear’s grape” in Latin (uva for grape and ursus for bear). Arctostaphylos is from the Greek, arktos meaning bear and staphyle, a bunch of grapes. Bears are fond of the fruit.
The Roman physician used uva ursi’s astringent leaves to treat wounds and stop bleeding. The plant was first documented in The Physicians of Myddfai, a 13th-century Welsh herbal. Marco Polo reported Chinese physicians using it as a diuretic to treat kidney and urinary problems.
Native American people used it as a urinary remedy and also enjoyed smoking a blend of uva-ursi leaves and tobacco which was the smoking mixture, kinnikinnik.
The 19th-century Eclectics recommended the herb for diarrhea, dysentery, gonorrhea, bed- wetting and chronic infections of the kidneys and urinary passages.
Hydroquinones (mainly arbutin, up to 17%), tannins (up to 15%), phenolic glycosides, and flavonoids. Arbutin and other hydroquinones have an antiseptic effect in the urinary tract.
Urinary antiseptic, astringent, anti-inflammatory.
Inflammatory or infectious conditions of the lower urinary tract, particularly cystitis. Urinary stones
Urinary infections, Cystitis.
Arbutin is the active ingredient in uva ursi. It is an antiseptic for the urinary tract that is particularly effective against E. coli infection. It is also effective against Proteus infections, provided steps are taken to ensure alkalization of the urine. The sugar portion of arbutin and its attached small molecule (hydroquinone) must be broken apart for arbutin to be effective, and the urine must be alkaline for this to happen.
This herb prevents bleeding in mild kidney disease and urinary tract infection (UTI). In one study, patients with chronic cystitis benefited from a standardised extract of uva ursi and dandelion root. The benefits can’t only be attributed to uva ursi, however, as the other herb was included in the product. It seems that uva ursi should not be used to treat acute cystitis, but it reduced recurrent UTIs by 23 percent in this study. In rats, uva ursi has shown diuretic effects, and it seems worth exploring whether it works in humans.
- In a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomised, clinical trial, 57 women with recurrent cystitis received either herbal treatment (standardised uva ursi extract and dandelion leaf and root extract) or placebo. Treatment for 1 month significantly reduced the recurrence of cystitis during the 1-year follow-up period, with no incidence of cystitis in the herbal group and a 23% occurrence in the placebo group. No side effects were reported. The dose of the individual herbs was not specified.
Dosage (Divided Daily)
• Dried Leaf (Tea): 4,500 – 12,000mg
• Tincture: 4.5 – 8.5 mL (1:2)
Most authorities caution that uva ursi should be avoided by people with chronic kidney disease, including acidic urine, peptic ulcers, or duodenal ulcers. Uva ursi may aggravate gastroesophageal reflux disease.
Herb expert James Duke reports that uva ursi sometimes aggravates tinnitus (ringing in the ears). If this effect occurs, it will be noticed after using the herb for two or three days. Ringing in the ears caused by uva ursi should wear off two or three days after the herb is discontinued.
Nausea and vomiting may occur in sensitive adults and children.
The herb may temporarily turn the urine green. This is a harmless effect. However, liver damage could occur if the herb is used too long, particularly in children.
This herb should not be used by pregnant or nursing women, or by children under twelve.
Avoid taking uva ursi for longer than a week.
Take all kidney and bladder infections seriously; they can cause complications if not treated promptly. If symptoms of a UTI persist for more than forty-eight hours, you should always seek medical attention. If you develop symptoms such as high fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or severe back pain, get medical assistance immediately.
Interactions with other drugs
Iron can form harmful complexes when used at the same time as uva ursi; separate the two by one to two hours. Do not use uva ursi if you take thiazide and loop diuretics because the purpose of these drugs is to rid the body of sodium, and uva ursi will cause the body to retain it.
- Balch, P. A., & Bell, S. J. (2012). Prescription for Herbal Healing (2nd ed.). New York, N.Y.: Avery.
- Bone, K. (2003). A clinical guide to blending liquid herbs: herbal formulations for the individual patient. St. Louis, MI: Churchill Livingstone.
- Herbalpedia (2013)
- Mars, B. (2007). The desktop guide to herbal medicine: the ultimate multidisciplinary reference to the amazing realm of healing plants, in a quick-study, one-stop guide. Laguna Beach, CA: Basic Health Pub.
All material on this website is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being.