Bearberries are small dwarf shrubs and the favourite food for bears. They are consumable by other animals, birds, and humans too. They are densely populated in Central America, and are distributed throughout North America, Asia, and Europe. It has three other species, i.e. alpine bearberry, red bearberry, and common bearberry. The leaves of these shrubs are used for medicinal purpose. It is specially grown over sandy soils, shallow region, and is often planted around home. They are small bushy plants that have dark green leaves with round edges and urn-shaped flowers. The stems are covered with fine silky hairs. The colour of the branches and the leaves changes with maturity. The twigs turn from white to green to reddish-brown, while the leaves turn from green to reddish-green to purple at the time of fall. The fruits are called drupes and they are round, smooth and fleshy. They are adaptable to chilly weather of the Arctic region. The leathery leaves and the silk hairs are the features that help the bearberries to habituate in the cold regions of Tundra. These shrubs are a good source of flavonoids, tannins, resins, ursolic acid, gallic acid, and other vital oils.
- Bearberry is a very productive shrub and every parts are used in certain way. They are used to treat cystisis, urinary disorders, and urolithiasis.
- The roots are used in the tea which treats cough and excess menstrual bleeding.
- The extracts from the stem is used to prevent miscarriages and heals the wounds of childbirth.
- The leaves of bearberries contain antibacterial compounds known as hydroquinones. The extract is used for urinary tract infection, bladder, and kidney problems.
- It is also an effective treatment for arthritis, rheumatism, severe back pain, and tinnitus. Bearberries also cure headache, fever, vomiting, sore gums, cuts & burns, and others.
- The polyphenolic compounds found in the leaves helps in anti-aging.
- Intake to higher quantities of bearberry may cause nausea, dizziness, green urine, and diarrhoea.
- It may also result in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
- Too much concentration of bearberries results in a heart condition called cardiomyopathy.
- Other discomforts include muscle cramps, irregular heartbeat, itching, and seizures, vomiting and swelling of lips or tongue.
Ways to prepare
Bearberries when fully ripe are made jams and jellies. They can be then used with bread, cakes, and muffins and can give you a delicious breakfast. Bearberry paste is another preparation made from these fruits. This paste enriches the flavour of the food. To make it bit spicy, cinnamon and cloves are used to enhance the taste.
Bearberries are thought to be effective folk medicine. It has many other common English names such as mountain cranberry, sandberry, crowberry, bear’s grape, and uva-ursi. According to folk tales the leaves of bearberries were first used in Europe and are called as phytomedicine. The leaves are also used by Native Americans with tobacco in various religious festivals. The Scandinavian countries obtain a grey coloured dye from this plant and the tanning is used in the leather industry of Sweden and Russia.