Uva Ursi

Issue published June 2020

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Letter from the editor

Uva ursi, bearberry, kinnikinnik, or manzanita—this herb has many other names across the Northern Hemisphere, where it grows in abundantly and exclusively in subalpine forests. It features heavily in indigenous legends across the globe. In its traditional role as part of a smoking blend, kinnikinnik was also smoked to offer peace between warriors of different tribes, as the beginning of this Shoshone legend depicts:

Many hundreds of winters ago, when the cottonwoods on the Big River were no higher than an arrow, and the red men, who hunted the buffalo on the plains, all spoke the same language, and the pipe of peace breathed its social cloud of kinnikinnik whenever two parties of hunters met on the boundless plains – when, with hunting grounds and game of every kind in the greatest abundance, no nation dug up the hatchet with another because one of its hunters followed the game into their bounds, but, on the contrary, loaded for him his back with choice and fattest meat, and ever proffered the soothing pipe before the stranger, with well-filled belly, left the village, it happened that two hunters of different nations met one day on a small rivulet, where both had repaired to quench their thirst...

Today, we herbalists use uva ursi leaves as a potent medicine for the urinary tract, gout, kidney stones, incontinence, and as an astringent and antimicrobial wound wash. Its thick, leather-like leaves are harvested from large expanses of shrubs found close to the ground in the rocky mountain soil, found in the understory of pine forests. Though it is abundant in the forests where it is found, it’s quite picky about where it grows; because of this, we must be careful and especially attentive to the ethics of harvesting the plant. There are farmers in subalpine regions that ethically farm forests with uva ursi, and support healthy propagation and harvesting of these plants. I recommend purchasing leaves from these ethical growers.

Uva ursi has played an important role in our household for my husband, who suffered kidney damage when he was young. He uses it to maintain healthy urinary flow, and to support his body through the symptoms of kidney stones. It is one I use often for people who develop chronic UTIs that don’t resolve with more gentle remedies. The experienced herbalists in this issue also share their uses for this wonderful mountain plant. Please enjoy!

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Articles

Uva Ursi Monograph
Uva Ursi Coloring Page
Genito-Urinary Tract Herb
The Giving Plant of the Forest Floor

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