Herbs & Plants
Of The Southwest
Latin Name: Arctostaphylos uva-ursi Common name: Kinnikinnick, Manzanita
These attractive, low growing shrubs with shiny, leathery leaves are found in areas of higher elevation in the southwest, and of course throughout the mountain west. It is one of the first plants to take over rocky and burned areas. The plant has white or pink flowers that mature into bright red berries, beloved, of course, by bears. Native Americans gathered the leaves and berries on hunting and gathering forays into the mountains, and smoked the leaves ceremonially and for pleasure.
The leaves of bearberry have many components which have antiseptic, diuretic and astringent qualities, and are used to treat inflammations because of these properties. Preparations from bearberry are used today in treating urinary tract problems such as cystitis and urethritis, anemia and rheumatism. This Native American plant is now well known and used internationally.
Obviously, it would not be a good idea to go charge into an area of heavy brush in “Bear Country” looking for these plants. I wouldn’t want to compete with a grizzly for his food! Not only is that not safe, it is not kind either, so it is preferable to buy many wild plants from commercial growers. Medically speaking, avoid use for small children and during pregnancy. Because of the high tannin content, avoid if you have a weak stomach, however coated tablets that dissolve in the small intestine rather than the stomach should avoid this side effect.
Be sure of the identity of the plant before you use it. If a preparation makes you sick or gives you a rash, don't use it, and throw it away! If your condition does not improve, see your doctor. Be sure to let your physician know EVERYTHING that you are taking!