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Gifts of Siberia: Bearberry

A chapter on how bearberry helps the kidneys and relieves inflammation in the body...

While many are aware of the numerous benefits this plant offers to the body, only a few can actually identify this mysterious plant when they come across it. Despite its unassuming appearance, bearberry is primarily recognized for its notable anti-inflammatory, diuretic, and antiseptic properties.

The healing properties of bearberry were already known to healers in ancient Greece, but the earliest recorded mention of its medicinal use dates back to the 12th century when its properties were described in the ancient English medical book. In Ancient Russia, bearberry was used to treat bladder disorders, urolithiasis, and syphilis. Scientific and practical medicine began to gather data on the properties of bearberry in the 1920s, in France.

It is believed that the Russian name of bearberry, "toloknyanka", comes from from the word "tolokno", which means flour. This is because during times of famine, people used to dry the berries of the plant and grind them into flour to make bread. The scientific name of bearberry, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, is derived from the ancient Greek words "arctos" meaning bear and "staphyle" meaning grape or vine, referring to the clusters of berries on the plant. In Russia, bearberry is often called "medvezhiy ushki", which translates to "bear ears". This is likely due to the fact that the shape of bearberry leaves bears a strong resemblance to the ears of a bear.

Herbalist's portrait

Bearberry is a small perennial shrub belonging to the heath family. It typically grows to a height of 30 to 50 cm and has a creeping growth habit, spreading along the ground. Bearberry thrives in deciduous forests, pine forests, and expansive clearings, and it is predominantly found in the northern regions of European Russia, Siberia, and the Far East. In April, it blossoms with pink inflorescences that gradually transform into spherical dark red fruits with a mealy flesh and a tangy-sour flavor.

Bearberry is often mistaken for its relative, the cowberry, but upon closer inspection, the differences become apparent. Bearberry is shorter in height compared to cowberry, and its leaves are characterized by curved edges, elongated shape, and distinct inclusions. Foresters can easily identify bearberry by another distinctive feature: its remarkable resistance to fire. After a fire, when everything around is charred black, the presence of green islands signifies the presence of bearberry.

The plant's healing properties

Modern medicine harnesses the disinfectant, anti-inflammatory, and diuretic properties of bearberry to treat bladder and urinary tract conditions, such as cystitis and urethritis.

For therapeutic purposes, the leaves of bearberry are used due to their rich chemical composition, which continues to be studied by scientists.

What valuable substances are in the leaves:

  • Arbutin exhibits potent diuretic and antiseptic effects. It inhibits the growth of pathogens responsible for urological infections, improves kidney function, and removes harmful substances and toxins from the body;
  • Tannins possess antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. They exert an astringent effect on the mucous membranes of the gastrointestinal tract, forming a protective film;
  • Flavonoids fight viruses, bacteria and microbes, promote normal excretion of internal fluid by the kidneys;
  • Organic acids: Ursolic acid stimulates the formation and excretion of bile, gallic acid has antimicrobial and antioxidant properties.

The bearberry leaf extract is a part of the following Siberian Wellness products: