Uva ursi is a trailing evergreen shrub that flourishes in alpine forests in many regions, including North America, Europe, the Iberian Peninsula, Siberia, and the Himalayas. The plant thrives in humus-rich soil. Uva ursi is a dwarfed evergreen perennial with short, creeping, red-brown branches. Pink or white bell-shaped flowers bloom in the spring. Bears are said to be fond of the shiny, bright red or pink berries, which are edible but sour tasting.
Uva ursi contains chemicals, primarily hydroquinone and hydroquinone derivatives, that make it potentially useful for urinary conditions. It has been approved for treating inflammation of the lower urinary tract by Commission E of the German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices, which is the German governmental agency that evaluates the safety and effectiveness of herbal products. The United States does not have a comparable agency to evaluate herbal products. Several chemicals found in uva ursi have antibacterial, antiseptic, and astringent properties that may help to treat urinary tract infections. An astringent shrinks and tightens the top layers of mucous membranes, thereby reducing secretions, relieving irritation, and improving tissue firmness. The antibacterial action of uva ursi is diminished or destroyed, however, if the urine has too much acid in it. Formerly, uva ursi was also thought to promote the production of urine by the body, but this diuretic effect has not been proved in studies of humans. In general, prescription drugs that are more effective than uva ursi and that may have fewer side effects are available for treating urinary tract infections.
Uva ursi is used to treat urinary tract infections, cystitis (bladder inflammation), and kidney stones. The hydroquinone derivative, arbutin, is the chief active compound in uva ursi. It is absorbed in the stomach and converted into a substance with antimicrobial, astringent, and disinfectant properties. During urination, as it passes out of the body, it acts on the mucus membranes of the urinary tract to soothe irritation, reduce inflammation, and fight infection.
The primary chemical constituents of this herb include glycosides (arbutin, methylarbutin, ericolin), allantoin, flavonoids (quercetin, myricacitrin), tannins, hydroquinone, ellagic acid, gallic acid, malic acid, and ursolic acid. It also contains vitamin A, iron, manganese, selenium and silicon. Uva Ursi contains a high concentration of arbutin, an antiseptic phenolic glycoside. Arbutin and other glycosides have diuretic & urinary antiseptic action. They relieve pain from bladder stones, cystitis, nephritis, and kidney stones. In the urinary tract, the arbutin constituent is converted in the body to hydroquinones & glucose which have antiseptic and disinfecting properties, and also helps alkalinize the urine. The hydroquinone may turn the urine green. Uva Ursi also contains allantoin which is well known for its soothing and tissue-repairing properties. Uva Ursi works best when one avoids acidic foods, such as citrus fruits & juices, cranberry products, sauerkraut, and vitamin C. This herb helps prevent postpartum infection. Uva Ursi is also helpful for chronic diarrhea. As a nutritional supplement and muscle relaxant, Uva Ursi soothes, strengthens, and tightens irritated & inflamed tissues. The herb neutralizes acidity in the urine, increasing urine flow, therefore reducing bloating & water retention, making it beneficial for weight loss. Uva Ursi's astringent properties may also assist in the treatment of some bed wetting problems. The common name Uva Ursi includes the species Arctostaphylos rubra and Arctostaphylos alpina, which are used interchangeably with Arctostaphylos uva-ursi.