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Bearberry

Bearberry
© Sertürner Bildarchiv

Botanical name

True Bearberry - Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (L.) Spreng.

Family

Erica, heather (Ericaceae)

Useful information about the plant

The bearberry grows in elevated locations in the entire northern hemisphere. It can be be found in Europe from the Iberian Peninsula over the whole of central Europe to Scandinavia. It has spread east to Siberia, the Altai and the Himalayas. In southern regions, the bearberry grows in mountainous areas, mostly above the tree line in northern areas it grows far down into the valleys. The bearberry is a low-lying dwarf shrub, often forming dense mats, with leathery, glossy, small leaves. The small white to pinkish, bell-shaped flowers are at the tip, overhanging like grapes, from which, in late summer, develop bright red, berry-like fruits with hard seeds.
Linné named the plant Arbutus uva-ursi, in a renaming the genus name was formed as a loan translation of the epithet’s uva-ursi. From Latin for ‘uva’ (= grape) came the Greek ‘staphyle’, and from Latin ‘ursus’ (= bear) came the Greek ‘arktos’. The English name of the plant is thus a translation of the botanical name. The reference to bear results from the presence of this species in circumpolar regions under the constellation of Ursa Major (Latin ‘ursa maior’, Greek ‘arktos’). The "grape" represents to the berry shaped fruits that are like grapes on the vine.

Medicinally used plant parts (drug)

The dried leaves are used. The commercial drug comes from harvests from the wild in Spain and Italy.

Ingredients of the drug

Bearberry leaves contain arbutin (hydrochinon glucoside) and other phenolic glycosides, tannins and flavonoids.

Descriptions of the quality

The quality of the bearberry leaves (Uvae-ursi folium) is specified in the European Pharmacopoeia (Ph. Eur).

Medical Application

Recognised medical use

(Simple) inflammatory diseases of the urinary tract (Commission E); ESCOP added "if treatment with antibiotics is not necessary." The HMPC has classified bearberry leaves as traditional herbal medicinal products (see "Traditional use").

Traditional use

Bearberry leaves were classified by the HMPC as a traditional herbal medicine (§ 39a AMG). Based on many years of experience, bearberry leaves can be used to treat symptoms of recurrent cystitis (e.g. burning sensation during urination and/or frequent urination in women), if there are more serious causes it has been ruled out for medical attention.

Medicinal herbal preparations in finished drug products

  • cut bearberry leaves as a tea
  • on hydroquinone derivatives (arbutin) standardised dried extracts in tablets
  • on hydroquinone derivatives (arbutin) standardised aqueous extracts in liquids

Dosage

Prepared drugs: see package insert;
Tea infusion: drink a warm cup of bearberry leaf tea up to 4 times a day; daily dose 6 to 12g of the drug or 400-840mg of the hydrochinon derivate, assessed as arbutin. A combination with other drugs such as restharrow, orthosiphon leaves or birch leaves (bladder and kidney, urinary tea) can be beneficial.

Preparation of a tea infusion

Pour 150ml of boiling water over 2.5g of finely chopped or coarsely powdered bearberry leaves and strain after 10 to 15 minutes. If you want to keep the content of tannins as low as possible, prepare a cold-water maceration. To do this leave the drug in the cold water for 6 to 12 hours, then strain the drug and heat the tea.

Advice

There are still no studies on the harmlessness of bearberry leaves during pregnancy and breast-feeding as well as for use in children and adolescents under the age of 18.
Men should have the cause of their urinary disorders medically clarified before using bearberry leaves.
Some symptoms may occur during treatment such as fever, urinary retention, cramps, or blood in the urine, medical attention must be sought if the symptoms persist for longer than 4 days. Bearberry leaves should not be used for kidney problems.
Bearberry leaves should not be taken for longer than 1 week. One must drink plenty of fluids with a urinary tract infection. The urine can be dyed a greenish-brown during the treatment.

Side effects

There may be the occasional stomach discomfort for people with sensitive stomachs when using bearberry leaves because of the tannins they contain.

Interactions

None known

References

Drug monographs

HMPC, Commission E, ESCOP, WHO Vol. 2

Further reading

Wichtl: Teedrogen und Phytopharmaka, pg. 688
Schilcher: Leitfaden Phytotherapie, pg. 49
Van Wyk: Handbuch der Arzneipflanzen, pg. 50
Kommentar zum Europäischen Arzneibuch (Bearberry leaves, no. 1054)

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