Bearberry / Kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)

Description

Low, creeping, evergreen herb … red berries … waxy oval leaves. Take a look:

Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) - Closeup of berries and leaves
Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), closeup of berries and leaves … The berries are edible, but rather bland and mealy. They are best when added to other foods that have a richer flavor texture.

Ecology

Bearberry is a “pioneer” plant. This means that when a mature, stable ecosystem is disturbed (such as when a timber company comes in and destroys a forest), bearberry will be one of the first species to move in and establish itself.

Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) - Growing in a mat on a rock
Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) – Growing in a creeping mat on a rock (the dark green groundcover with the red berries)

Edible Uses

Berries can be eaten, but are dry, mealy, and bland. They aren’t bad though — try mixing them in as nutritious “filler” with one of your stews.

Medicinal Uses

Bearberry is one of the most effective herbal treatments for urinary tract infections, and was used by numerous Native American tribes for this purpose. Chemically, a compound known as hydroquinone (which is present in high amounts in the leaves of bearberry) is responsible. Hydroquinone is strongly antiseptic and antibacterial — and is especially effective against all of the small group (~5 to be precise) of organisms which are normally responsible for causing urinary tract infections.

The hydroquinone in bearberry, however, is contained within a compound called arbutin, which is essentially hydroquinine with some attached sugars. In order for the hydroquinone to act on your body, you need alkaline urine to ensure that once the bonds attaching the sugars to the hydroquinone have been broken, that it will remain a free molecule that can float around in there and kill those nasty infectious little beasties … That is, the hydroquinine will still detach from the sugars if your urine is not alkaline, but it will quickly combine with other chemical compounds, and pass out of your system without doing anything.

How to get alkaline urine? Simple: consume a lot of basic (as in high pH) food/drinks such as milk, cheese, etc. And avoid foods/drinks that contain large amounts of vitamin C and acids — no coffee, orange juice, or key lime pie for you!

Like any other strong medicine, bearberry has a few cautions. First off, pregnant women and children should not be treated with bearberry. It has the effect of reducing bloodflow to the fetus of pregnant women, and is somewhat harsh on the liver, which young kids have a hard time handling. Also, it should not be used for longer than a week — if it still burns when you tinkle after a week of it … you should probably try something else!

Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) - Closeup of leaves and stem
The medicinal part of bearberry is the leaves, which contain hydroquinone – highly effective at treating urinary tract infections.

Other Uses

This plant was smoked by a large number of Native American tribes along with or instead of tobacco and other smoking mixtures.

Also used to make yellow-red dye …

Commonly planted as an attractive & edible groundcover in yards and gardens.

Nomenclature

The name means “bear grapes”, derived from Greek arkto (bear) and staphyle (grape). [[wiki]]

Often called uva-ursi, from the Latin uva, “grape, berry of the vine”, ursi, “bear”, i.e. “bear’s grape”. [[wikipedia]]

References / Bibliography

* Plants for a Future — Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
*
Wikipedia — Bearberry
*
Wikipedia — Arctostaphylos

* Botanical.com — Bearberry

* Effects of Bearberry — Uva-ursi for urinary tract infections

Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus)

Description

Perennial shrub, up to 2.5 m tall, but usually 1 m or less in my experience. Five petalled white flowers … leaves …

Here's my good friend Marvin hanging out behind a thimbleberry bush ...
Here’s my good friend Marvin hanging out behind a thimbleberry bush …


Ecology

Edible Uses

Delicious berries! One of my favorites … They are high in vitamin C as well.

You can also eat the shoots when they are still young and tender — just peel them, and either eat them raw, or cook them up like you would asparagus. These too are high in Vitamin C.

The white flowers can be eat raw as well — put them on a salad to make it all nice and pretty!

A cluster of ripe, red thimbleberries, with one on the cluster that is pink and unripe
Here are some of those delicious fruits (one of my favorite summer snacks) … the pink ones are not ripe yet.

Medicinal Uses

The leaves are antiemetic, astringent, blood tonic and stomachic. An infusion is used internally in the treatment of stomach complaints, diarrhoea and dysentery, anaemia, the spitting up of blood and to treat vomiting. [[pfaf]]]

Leaf and flower of thimbleberries

Other Uses

The large, soft leaves make an excellent toilet paper. Something about the non-waxy, ridged texture grabs the poop well. And the leaves are nice and big so you don’t get poop all over your hands!

And you can make soap by boiling the bark …

Resources / Bibliography

* Plants for a Future — Rubus Parviflorus

Creeping Oregon Grape (Mahonia repens)

Creeping Oregon Grape (Mahonia Repens) -- entire plant, fruiting

The toothed/spiny, waxy leaves
The toothed/spiny, waxy leaves
The stems / bark of Mahonia repens
The stems / bark of Mahonia repens
Closeup of the fruits
Closeup of the fruits
Note the parallel leaves
Note the parallel leaves

References

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creeping_Oregon-grape

http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=MARE11

http://www.pfaf.org/database/plants.php?Mahonia+repens