Kinnikinnick – Bearberry

Kinnikinnick, is the name I was taught when I first met this sprawling evergreen plant. She lives in dry, sometimes gravelly soil in the Northern US, Canada and parts of Europe. She doesn’t need much love to thrive.

bearberry the tiny apple

The official name of this small ground-cover shrub is Arctostaphylos, a Greek word that translates to Bear Berry. Uva-Ursi is what I like to call her the most, but she has a lot of catchy nicknames or common names: upland cranberry, mountain cranberry, mealberry, bear’s grape or chipmunk’s apple are a few.

Isn’t she beautiful? I love that she’ll stay green like this and peek through the snow all winter where I live.

Not only is she a looker, but she’s powerful and holds healing magic. This herb cleanses and purifies. Although her leaves are the medicinal part, the berries are also edible. I would assume bears like them?


Uva-Ursi’s bark is dark brown or reddish. Her leaves are 1/2 to 1 inch long and spoon shaped. They feel really smooth. If you’re harvesting this plant, the fall is the best time to pick her leaves. The flowers of this plant are urn-shaped white or pink, and they grow in clusters from April to June.  After she flowers, the berries appear and are typically bright red (they actually look like miniature apples) or pink.


The leaves of this plant are often infused, and there are loads of recipes on the interwebs. Dried leaves were often used as a base ingredient for ceremonial and recreational smoking mixtures by Native Americans. I’m sure this practice varied and had different meaning amongst different tribes. The name Kinnikinnick (translates to smoking mixture) originated from the Algonquian Tribe.


The berries are bright red or pink and are also edible, but typically mealy. They are tart and not that enjoyable, but they are very hardy and will usually stay edible through the winter (survival fare).

How do we use Uva-Ursi in our Family?

I’m personally prone to bladder infections, and I have a favorite tincture called Bladder Buddy made by Wishgarden that has uva-ursi in the mix. I find it to be very effective. Here is an affiliate link if you want to check it out.

Not only is uva-ursi great for bladder and urinary tract health, but also kidney health. AND, she can be a helper for inflammation and healing hemorrhoids and postpartum swelling. I have shared a sitz bath with uva-ursi with many of my doula clients.  

Herbal Actions

Kinnikinnick is an astringent, diuretic and tonic.

As with many diuretics, sometimes uva-ursi is used as a blood pressure aid. She can also help regulate blood sugar which can be beneficial for those with diabetes. 

Other Properties

I love learning about the spiritual properties of plants. Uva-ursi is said to purify the stream of love. It clears blockages and irritations one might feel toward another. Sometimes, the leaves and berries are worn as a love talisman. Wouldn’t that be the most beautiful talisman?  

Meet Bearberry

There are a few moments where my camera tips over, whoops. I didn’t have a tripod for this recording.

Please note that long term use of uva-ursi can be toxic as the leaves contain tannins, so keep use limited. Always consult your provider with questions, and prior to use, to err on the side of caution. 

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