The name "bearberry" for the plant derives from the edible fruit which is a favorite food of bears. The fruit, also called bearberries, are edible and are sometimes gathered for food. The leaves of the plant are used in herbal medicine.
Red bearberry: Arctostaphylos rubra (Rehd. & Wilson) Fernald (syn. Arctous rubra (Rehder and E.H. Wilson) Nakai; Arctous alpinus var. ruber Rehd. and Wilson). A procumbent shrub 10–30 centimetres (3.9–11.8 in) high. Leaves deciduous, falling in autumn to leave bare stems. Berries red. Distribution: in the mountains of Sichuan, southwestern China north and east to eastern Siberia, Alaska and northern Canada east to northern Quebec.
Other recorded old English common names include arberry, bear's grape, crowberry, foxberry, hog cranberry, kinnikinnick, mealberry, mountain box, mountain cranberry, mountain tobacco, sandberry, upland cranberry, and uva-ursi.
The leaves are picked any time during the summer and dried for use in infusions, liquid extracts, medicinal tea bags and tablets believed to be potentially effective in folk medicine.
Bearberry appears to be relatively safe, although large doses may cause nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, severe back pain and tinnitus. It should not be used during pregnancy, breast feeding, or in children or patients with kidney disease.
The efficacy and safety of bearberry treatment in humans remains unproven, despite long-term use in folk medicine. Although human pilot studies exist, no large clinical trials have ever been conducted.
History and folklore
Common bearberry from Thomé Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885
Bearberry was first documented in The Physicians of Myddfai, a 13th-century Welshherbal. It was also described by Clusius in 1601, and recommended for medicinal use in 1763 by Gerhard and others. Often called uva-ursi, from the Latin uva, "grape, berry of the vine", ursi, "bear", i.e. "bear's grape". It first appeared in the London Pharmacopoeia in 1788.
In Strathnairn, Scotland there is a hill, known as Brin Mains, but which is known in Scottish Gaelic as "Cnoc nan Cnàimhseag" which means "The hill of the bearberries".
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