Friday, October 22, 2010

Food: The Edible Bearberry

Bearberry or kinnikinnick
Arctostaphylos uvaursi

Description: This plant is a common evergreen shrub with reddish, scaly bark and thick, leathery leaves 4 centimeters long and 1 centimeter wide. It has white flowers and bright red fruits.

Habitat and Distribution: This plant is found in arctic, subarctic, and temperate regions, most often in sandy or rocky soil.

Edible Parts: Its berries are edible raw or cooked. You can make a refreshing tea from its young leaves.


Health Benefits and Warnings of eating Fruit

Medicinal Uses

Antiseptic; Astringent; Birthing aid; Diuretic; Hypnotic; Kidney; Lithontripic; Poultice; Skin; Tonic; Women's complaints.

Bearberry was commonly used by many native North American Indian tribes to treat a wide range of complaints and has also been used in conventional herbal medicine for hundreds of years, it is one of the best natural urinary antiseptics. The leaves contain hydroquinones and are strongly antibacterial, especially against certain organisms associated with urinary infections. The plant should be used with caution, however, because hydroquinones are also toxic. The leaves are antiseptic, astringent, diuretic, lithontripic, hypnotic and tonic. The dried leaves are used in the treatment of a variety of complaints. These leaves should be harvested in early autumn, only green leaves being selected, and then dried in gentle heat[4]. A tea made from the dried leaves is much used for kidney and bladder complaints and inflammations of the urinary tract such as acute and chronic cystitis and urethritis, but it should be used with caution and preferably only under the supervision of a qualified practitioner. The tea is more effective if the urine is alkaline, thus it is best used in combination with a vegetable-based diet. Externally, a poultice of the infused leaves with oil has been used as a salve to treat rashes, skin sores etc, and as a wash for a baby's head. An infusion of the leaves has been used as an eyewash, a mouthwash for cankers and sore gums and as a poultice for back pains, rheumatism, burns etc. The dried leaves have been used for smoking as an alternative to tobacco. One report says that it is unclear whether this was for medicinal purposes or for the intoxicated state it could produce, whilst another says that the leaves were smoked to treat headaches and also as a narcotic. The herb should not be prescribed to children, pregnant women or patients with kidney disease. Another report says that some native North American Indian tribes used an infusion of the stems, combined with blueberry stems (Vaccinium spp) to prevent miscarriage without causing harm to the baby, and to speed a woman's recovery after the birth.

Other Uses

Beads; Dye; Ground cover; Pioneer; Soil stabilization; Tannin; Waterproofing.
A yellowish-brown dye is obtained from the leaves, it does not require a mordant. A grey-brown dye is obtained from the fruit. The dried fruits are used in rattles and as beads on necklaces etc. The leaves are a good source of tannin. The mashed berries can be rubbed on the insides of coiled cedar root baskets in order to waterproof them. A good ground-cover for steep sandy banks in a sunny position or in light shade. A carpeting plant, growing fairly fast and carpeting as it spreads. It is valuable for checking soil erosion on watersheds. This is also a pioneer plant in the wild, often being the first plant to colonize burnt-over areas, especially on poor soils.


There are four subspecies:
• Arctostaphylos uva-ursi subsp. uva-ursi. Common Bearberry; circumpolar arctic and subarctic, and in mountains further south.
• Arctostaphylos uva-ursi subsp. adenotricha. Central high Sierra Nevada.
• Arctostaphylos uva-ursi subsp. coactilis. North coastal California, central coast California, San Francisco Bay Area.
• Arctostaphylos uva-ursi subsp. cratericola (J. D. Smith) P. V. Wells. Guatemala Bearberry, endemic to Guatemala at very high altitudes (3000-4000 m).
There are also several varieties that are propagated for use as ornamentals. It is an attractive evergreen plant and it is also useful for controlling erosion.


Bearberry Jelly

2 quarts berries
1 cup sugar per cup of juice
1 tbsp lemon juice
3 oz liquid pectin

Berries should be fully ripe. Wash and stem berries. Place in saucepan and cook till the fruit pops and the juice flows freely. Remove from heat and squeeze through jelly bag. Measure juice and place into a deep saucepan. Add 1 cup of sugar per cup of juice measured. Add 1 tbsp of lemon juice and mix thoroughly. Place mixture over high heat and boil till sugar dissolves while stirring constantly. Add 3 oz of liquid pectin and keep mixture at a hard boil for 1 full minute. Skim off foam and pour into hot, sterile jelly jars and seal.

Bearberry Jam

2 quarts berries
1 cup sugar per cup of sauce
3 oz pectin

Place washed, ripe berries in a deep saucepan and cook over a medium heat for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and mash fruit with potato masher. Force through a strainer or food mill to remove seeds. Retain as much juice and pulp as possible. Measure juice and pulp into saucepan and add 1 cup of sugar per cup of the sauce. Mix well and bring to a boil for 1 minute while stirring constantly. Add 3 oz of liquid pectin and mix well. Boil for 1 minute then pour into hot, sterile jelly jars and seal.

Bearberry Paste

Wash and stem 2 quarts of fresh bearberries. Place into a deep saucepan and add a little water. Cook till the berries pop and the juice flows. Remove and pour through a sieve or food mill to remove the seeds. Place the pulp into a large bowl and cover and allow mixture to set for 24 hours. Measure the juicy pulp and place in a deep saucepan. Add 1 cup of sugar per each cup of pulp. Mix well and boil for 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Pour into hot sterile jars and seal.

Variation: For a spicy paste add 1 crushed stick of cinnamon, 1 tbsp whole cloves and 1 tsp allspice to the pulp when it is placed in the bowl to set for 24 hours. Be sure to combine the spices well before leaving it to sit. After 24 hours strain the mixture, removing the whole spice particles and then follow the rest of the recipe.

Recipe Source


  1. Just found and indentified these for the first time, growing with blueberries in Sheffield, UK. We are having the most fantastic soft fruits and berry year, never seen so many!
    Also had never-before seen vistas of bog cotton in early summer close by.