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Ezine Index   |   Feature Article by Thea Summer Deer   |   Wise Woman Radio   |



Uva Ursi: A Winter Ally, contd.
by Thea Summer Deer


I was enamored of this plant not only because I wrote about its plant spirit medicine in my book, Wisdom of the Plant Devas, but also because I use it in my Kinnikinnick smoking blend. Kinnikinnick is another common name for uva ursi, an Algonquian word meaning “mixture,” and refers to the tradition of mixing the leaves with other herbs and tobacco. My friend and mentor, Beverly Laughing Eagle, shared the recipe with me that was handed down by her mother, and her mother before her. I use this mixture in my herbal medicine practice to help people quit smoking.

uva ursi by Thea Summer DeerTobacco is gradually weaned out of the mixture, which minimizes the withdrawal symptoms, while the mixture itself satisfies the need for an oral fixation. Used during ceremonies or in tribal councils, kinnikinnick was thought to clear the mind, as well as to help bring visions and guidance.

American Indians also made an ash colored dye from the leaves and fruit, dried the berries for use in rattles or as beads, and used the plant’s tannic acid to preserve leather. Bearberries were considered a survival food and were added to winter stews and pounded into pemmican, a concentrated mixture of fat and protein that can be stored long term.

The plants popularity with wildlife is probably due to the fact that it can be found in the deep of winter when other food sources are unavailable. It is also possible that uva ursi has some medicinal value for these wild animals, especially after hibernating and having minimal fluid intake.

The early Romans have used Uva ursi medicinally since at least the second century, and there is evidence of its use by Native Americans as a remedy for urinary tract infections. I have found it particularly useful in this application. Before the discovery of sulfa drugs and antibiotics, an infusion of uva ursi leaves was a common treatment for bladder infections and cystitis, and it is still used for this purpose.

The astringent action of tannins also helps to shrink and tighten mucous membranes and reduce inflammation. An oil infusion of the leaves can mabe made into a salve and used for skin sores and cradle cap. Scientific research has discovered that uva ursi’s infection-fighting properties are due to the chemical compound arbutin, which exerts antibacterial activity in the urinary tract as it is excreted.


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