Uva ursi is an evergreen shrub often referred to as bearberry because bears seem to enjoy eating the plant’s red berries. The Latin name uva ursi literally translates to “bear’s grapes.” Before the discovery of antibiotics, uva ursi was used as a natural remedy to treat urinary tract infections (UTIs).
What Is Uva Ursi Used For?
Herbal supplements made from the leaves of uva ursi have been used as a natural therapy to help treat cystitis (bladder infections) and UTIs. The plants contain natural chemicals with infection-fighting properties, called glycosides and arbutin.
Glycosides might help reduce the bacteria in your urine. Your body transforms glycosides into hydroquinone, a compound with antibacterial properties.Uva ursi also contains tannins, which can have an astringent (drying) effect on your tissues.
Uva ursi has also been used topically (to the surface of the skin) because it chemically produces hydroquinone, which is a substance that is used in skin lightening creams. Hydroquinone is prescribed for the treatment of dark skin patches that develop due to skin damage.
One research review examined 14 over-the-counter products to evaluate each one’s ability to block urease, an enzyme that promotes infection from Staphylococcus saprophyticus, a common type of bacteria in the urinary tract.
Another study found that “the antibacterial and astringent benefits [in uva ursi] plus research indicating that uva ursi can effectively treat and prevent urinary tract infections, suggest this herb can be helpful in treating urinary incontinence.”
Uva ursi is also known for its diuretic properties—this refers to the body’s ability to flush out fluids, which helps rid the bladder of disease-causing germs. E. coli is a type of bacteria that commonly causes UTIs in females. Research has suggested that uva ursi can help prevent E. coli as well.
Possible Side Effects
Uva ursi is considered relatively safe for adults taking low doses by mouth for a short period of time.
Potential side effects you may experience from short-term use are:
However, you shouldn’t take high doses of uva ursi or use it for a long period of time due to the potential for toxicity from hydroquinone.
Theoretically, high amounts of hydroquinone in the body can lead to serious, life-threatening complications:
You should not take uva ursi if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, and it should not be used in children.
This herb can also alter the absorption or effects of certain drugs and nutrients and should not be used if you:
Take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or corticosteroids
Take iron supplements
Caution is recommended with uva ursi if you:
Have any kidney disorders
Have high blood pressure
Have Crohn’s disease, ulcers, or digestive problems
Have liver disease
Have thinning of the retina, which is the area in the back of the eye.
Dosage and Preparation
Uva ursi is sold in crushed leaf and powder preparations, including tea, tinctures, and capsules to take by mouth. Extracts of the plant are also used in products applied to the skin. Only the leaves are used—not the berries—in herbal medicinal preparations.
Due to the potential for toxicity, ask your doctor before taking uva ursi. Experts don’t recommend taking the herb for more than two weeks. Some guidelines suggest taking uva ursi less than five times a year, and for not more than five days each time.
Never take more than the recommended dose or for longer than the prescribed duration.
As a dried herb, a standard dose is 2 grams to 4 grams per day with a total of 400 milligrams (mg) to 800 mg of arbutin.
To make a tea, soak 3 grams of dried leaves in 5 ounces of water for 12 hours. Then strain the tea and drink it three to four times each day.